The more I think about this book, the more I like it. The author does a
great job of intertwining Circe into the gaps where the Greek mythology
doesn’t extend. I love the idea of taking a character who appears in a
single chapter of The Odyssey and extending her backstory backward and
forward. Why was she turning men into pigs, anyway? Why did she help
them get through Scylla and the Sirens? I liked her interactions with
the gods early in the book, when she was just a na´ve and timid girl.
She managed to find the ire of Zeus, the anger of Athena, and the love
of Hermes. Her exile was her pleasure, to get away from them all, until
forever started taking its toll. When visitors started coming to her
island, she reacted naively, then with anger, until finally Odysseus
found a way to turn her around again. Once she gained that confidence,
which might only come with being a parent, taking great pains to ensure
her child is safe, she manages to pull off her greatest achievements,
and finally find focus not only in her life, but what she wants her life
to be. Definitely an interesting take on Greek mythology.
When I think of Ulysses or the Greek gods or Titans, I used to have
something vague in mind, and even when they refered to it in
Jackson, or the movies about Rise of the Titans or even Wonder Woman, I
was never all that interested in them. I knew the basics, but little
more. That has changed with this book. The author takes her time
describing a minor character from the pantheon of Greek gods, and the
way she observes and interacts with the gods and heroes. Now when I
think of Prometheus, I will think of Circe, the same with Scylla,
Athena, Odysseus, Daedalus, the minotaur, and so on and so on.
The author does a great job giving this character he own personality and
motivations. Always starved for attention, being the weakest daughter of
Helios, always spurned as ugly and with a terrible voice, to never
amount to anything, she is basically ignored. However, like the kitchen
staff in a castle, she probably learns more about the boasts and
conquests of the gods than anybody.
That’s not to say she
becomes wise, because she doesn’t. While the book’s big weakness is that
it takes place over thousands of years, it’s also a strength. The story
drags a little bit in the intervening years, when nothing major is
happening, but really picks up when she gets exiled for transforming a
mortal man into an immortal, and the beautiful Scylla into a monster (a
representation of her true self). She thinks she loves, but is so na´ve
that she can’t understand what the world is really like. So her love
becomes an important minor god, and loses interest in her, and she takes
her revenge on his new lover. This of course dooms hundreds of men to
death, including many of the sailors of Odysseus.
On her island,
her story shines, as she relishes being alone, mixing herbs, doing witch
stuff, taming the animals, and getting romantic and intimate visits with
Hermes. It’s probably my favorite part, as she gets tidbits of
information on the world beyond, and learns a lot about herself and her
expectations of the world. She even gets a small reprieve from the
island as she is supposed to help her sister give birth, cutting her
open in a C-section, and getting fingers bitten off by the monster baby.
Her sister’s smirk when she blames Daedalus for getting her pregnant,
when the whole plot was her own, to give her some advantage, speaks
volumes. She has the power to kill the minotaur, but consults her
visions, and concludes that it’s the fate of somebody else to do it, so
the creature gets a labyrinth.
I love the way that there is no
precedent for putting Circe into any of these situations, but neither is
there anything explicitly stating she wasn’t involved, which gives the
author the perfect entry point. I also love the way she describes the
power of the gods. I’ve never heard of their everyday powers. Sure, they
can make things appear and disappear at will, but I’ve never heard of
them regrowing fingers (though I suppose that’s implied by Prometheus’
liver growing back every day). Circe makes the point to say how the gods
have no sense of ownership because they can carve a statue with no
effort, mine metals for creating a necklace with a snap of the fingers,
and so on. They have a sense of entitlement instead.
world changes for her, as she is raped by shipwrecked sailors, letting
them get too close before she tries to use her magic. After the leader
rapes her, she kills them all. Then, for every ship that lands on her
shores, she turns them into pigs, regardless of their intentions. Then
comes Odysseus’ ship. Odysseus and her come to an agreement, and in this
story she has an equal part in the lover’s agreement.
part of the book deals with Odysseus, as he spends months with her,
helping her, growing to love her. As they are both rebels at heart, they
get along well and understand each other. All she asks for in payment is
his stories. Then she realizes that she’s fallen in love, and he with
her. But in the end, he needs to leave again. She allows herself to
become pregnant, giving birth to the son who will eventually kill him.
The pregnancy is very difficult, giving her pain every day, and
in the end, she has to give herself a C-section to get it out. The child
is very difficult until he’s a teen, when he finally calms down, but
then he gets restless, like his father. It turns out that Athena wants
to kill the boy, because she knows by secret prophecy that he will kill
his father, Athena’s favorite. I liked the way Circe faces off against
her and wins by setting a spell of protection on the island.
When her son decides he must leave the island, she searches the
poisonous god of formation and gains his tail. I was confused and a bit
disappointed in this part, because while the fish-god said she would
endure eternal pain if she wanted the tail, it was only a lie, a test,
and she gained it without any payment. If word ever got out, if she ever
told anybody –or even if Hermes or Athena saw it and realized she didn’t
suffer any ill effects, then the illusion would be gone, and everyone
would try to get the poison tail.
After Odysseus is killed, his
wife and first child come to the island. Circe is jealous at first, but
grows to love both of them. Penelope learns to become a witch, while
Telemachus grows close enough to eventually become her lover. Eventually
Athena returns, and offers Telemachus a kingdom in Italy, but he
refuses, so it goes to Circe’s son instead. I also found this to be
weak, as the boy, while he could be a leader, is as na´ve as she was,
despite her warnings. I suppose with Athena guiding him, he would be
pretty safe, but even she couldn’t save her favorite Odysseus.
Circe’s final acts are to kill Scylla (putting the nymph out of her
misery and saving many more lives afterward), and using her witchcraft
of transformation to turn herself into a mortal. So she and Telemachus
will spend the rest of their mortal days traveling Egypt and the rest of
the known world.
I liked the way the author squished all sorts
of Greek mythology, from gods to heroes and more, into Circe’s story.
She was observer to all, and when she couldn’t, she got news from
elsewhere, so was able to report it. I liked the little reminders of the
mythology, though could have done without some of the much longer
recounts, like of Odysseus and the cyclops, which slowed down the plot
more than I would have liked.
Very enjoyable, especially for a
subject that I don’t have a particular fascination for. The author made
it very intriguing and entertaining, and I was interested in what would
happen next. Definitely a fun read.