She is the daughter of Helios, and is an unremarkable and naive nymph. Shunned by her siblings and dismissed by her parents, she finally discovers that her power lies in witchcraft. Because of this, and for how she uses it, she is exiled for eternity by her father to an uninhabited island. She (spoilers) learns to harness her power in a way her more powerful siblings do not, has a lasting affair with the fickle Apollo, and falls in love with the wayward Odysseus (by whom she is given a son).
Her development is well executed, but she suffers at every stage. Miller’s a master of characterization. In Song of Achilles, I was immediately drawn into the narrative of the very human Patroclus. In Circe, I found it a little more difficult to get into the petty squabbling of the gods, but once Circe goes to her island I was soon drawn into the book, finding her a rich and rewarding character. This is entirely due to Miller’s talent and attention to detail. Circe never feels detached from reality – which is fitting because these stories are so often about gods acting human.
This book wasn’t quite as gut-wrenching as A Song of Achilles, but the struggle Circe has watching her mortal son grow and mature and develop a need to leave the island and find his father…..it was pretty powerful. And to get a different perspective on Odysseus from the one I’d always held was both jarringly disappointing and incredibly well done. She brought something new to the character that I didn’t recall from my 7th grade reading of The Odyssey.
The only knock I have against this book is that it was published in 2018, and is only Miller’s second book (since 2011). So it’ll be a few years before I can read anything else of hers, and that’s disappointing.
But I’ll add her to the ever growing list of authors I never would’ve discovered without Cannonball Read, but am now avidly a fan of. If you’re one of the few who haven’t read Madeline Miller, rectify that immediately.