Circe by Madeline Miller

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Rating:  ★★★★★

Blurb (from GoodReads): In the house of Helios, god of the sun and mightiest of the Titans, a daughter is born. But Circe is a strange child—not powerful, like her father, nor viciously alluring like her mother. Turning to the world of mortals for companionship, she discovers that she does possess power—the power of witchcraft, which can transform rivals into monsters and menace the gods themselves.

Threatened, Zeus banishes her to a deserted island, where she hones her occult craft, tames wild beasts and crosses paths with many of the most famous figures in all of mythology, including the Minotaur, Daedalus and his doomed son Icarus, the murderous Medea, and, of course, wily Odysseus….To protect what she loves most, Circe must summon all her strength and choose, once and for all, whether she belongs with the gods she is born from, or the mortals she has come to love.

 

This may very well be the last book I have time to finish this year, and I am not sad for it. This book deserves all the praise that has been heaped on it, and I have to admit, I was pretty skeptical.

There aren’t any words I could say to do it justice. The blurb doesn’t do it any justice at all because it was the blurb that put me off it for so long. Truthfully- it just seemed boring.

It’s not. This isn’t so much a retelling of Homer’s The Odyssey, (though in some ways it is) but a saga of Circe, the least loved of all the gods, the least powerful, the least pretty, the least wanted. Time and time again she is thrown low and overcomes it. That is not to say she is without faults- she is far from perfect. But by the end of it, regardless of what she may have done, you can’t help but cheer for her.

The writing is lush and beautiful.  It is everything I would have wanted from a Greek retelling.  It has a sweep-you-away quality that just makes you feel like you’re sitting by a roaring fire on a cold winter night listen to your grandmother tell stories of her childhood.

The characters were also fantastic.  Circe was my favorite and a lot of that is due to the time we spend with her.  Other characters flit in and out of Circe’s life, and they all have their own voices and characterizations, but it is harder to connect with them since they might have only a few chapters they were involved in.

Aside from Circe, there is plenty of other greek mythology to go around. There is the birth of the minotaur, Icarus, who flew too close to the sun, Jason and the Argonauts and the golden fleece and his wife, the witch, Medea. There is story upon story upon story, all beautifully and carefully told. Many of them were easily recognizable and they all brought a smile to my face.

I have been hesitant to try Miller’s The Song of Achilles because I enjoyed The Silence of the Girls so much, but now it’s become a must-read.  If you have ever enjoyed any Greek tale at all- pick this up. You will not be disappointed.

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Heroes

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Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Hello!  I apologize I’ve been on hiatus.  October and November are super busy months for me at work and December hasn’t been looking up either.  A couple weeks to go and hopefully I can get back to reading and blogging regularly.

Today’s TTT was a freebie.  I’ve already listed my top ten favorite villains, so I wanted to go the opposite route and talk about my favorite heroes.  We’ll venture into four forms of media today: Books, TV, Video Games and movies, so I’ll apologize in advance for not making this post completely bookish.

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10. Apollo in The Just City by Jo Walton (review here) – The Just City is a book that I feel like doesn’t get talked about enough.  It’s incredibly relevant, beautifully told, thought provoking, and entertaining.  Apollo is a favorite, not only because of the transformation he goes through, but because of his complexity. He’s thoughtful and loving, but also sometimes driven by rage, and clearly very flawed.  (You see a lot of that in book two: The Philosopher Kings.)

Gladiator

9. Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator – Gladiator is one of my favorite movies of all time (and that’s saying a lot because it’s largely a tragedy which I find incredibly depressing). He’s a reluctant hero, driven largely by love for his family.  When he is first asked to help make Rome a Republic again he declines, wanting instead to return to his home.  He embodies just about every quality you could ask for in a hero, and despite not really trying or even being in a position to do so, he succeeds in his goals.

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8.  Jericho Barrons in the Darkfever series by Karen Marie Moning – Jericho is arguably one of the least heroic characters on this list.  I wouldn’t say he undergoes a major transformation throughout the books, but as we come to know more about him and better understand him, it’s hard not to be sympathetic.  Also- the man is damn entertaining to read.

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7. Nathan Drake in Uncharted – You’ll notice a large part of my list is comprised of video game characters.  Aside from television- you’ll spend more hours with game characters than you ever will with book or film characters.  Furthermore, being that you control them, it’s really, really hard not to become attached.  Nathan Drake first appeared in Uncharted in 2007.  He’s a charming, fast talking, scrappy adventurer.  He seems to have a knack for getting himself into trouble. When the last game released in 2016, I was literally sobbing my eyes out at his ending, both because it was perfect for him and because I knew it was the last game he’d star in.  (In case you’re curious about Nathan Drake: I just stumbled across a 15 minute short film that nailed everything I love about him.  You can find it here.  Also- where is the full length film and why is that not a thing already?)

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6.  Falcio val Mond in The Greatcoats by Sebastien de Castell (review here) – This is another series I feel like doesn’t get enough recognition.  These books are so much fun.  Reading this was a lot like playing Dragon Age.  The banter between the characters is perfect.  Falcio himself is honorable and loyal to a fault.  He’s self deprecating, freely admits he’s not the best swordsman of the Greatcoats, and frequently sings himself out of life and death situations.  He cares a lot for his friends and it shows.

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5. Geralt of Rivia of The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski (as well as the video games, review for The Last Wish here) – My love for Geralt, admittedly, comes primarily through the game The Witcher 3.  He’s truly unique in that he’s a mutant, and the wider world he lives in actually doesn’t like him or want him around.  Witchers are viewed as a necessary evil (they take contracts to kill monsters, something their mutant abilities make them much more equipped to do).  He’s basically a snarky, mutant, sword wielding ballerina.  What’s not to love? (Side note: Henry Cavill being cast as Geralt in the upcoming Netflix series is a crime.)

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4. Arthur Morgan in Red Dead Redemption 2 – Arthur would probably be a better fit for my villains and antiheroes list, and truthfully, him being a hero is entirely dependent on how you play (I played the honorable outlaw so we’re going with it). There were a lot of things I felt RDR2 didn’t get right (mostly the gameplay) but Arthur’s narrative is not one of them.  He’s loyal, he cares deeply for the people around him, and he’s willing to suck  venom out of a complete stranger’s leg.  I haven’t even finished the game yet because I’m not sure I’m emotionally equipped to watch that ending. Rockstar, if you’re reading this, I NEED an alternate ending DLC.

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3.  Ezio Auditore da Firenze of the Assassin’s Creed franchise – I find it really odd that Ubisoft made a character so compelling for three games and literally no more in all EIGHT other games.  (Admittedly, Bayek came pretty close.)  What I love about his story, is that we get to see the full arc, from the time he comes of age to his death.  Like many of the heroes on my list, on the surface, he seems like a carefree, easy going kind of guy, but as his story and arc progress, it becomes clear that he cares a lot about the fate and the troubles of his people.  (Fun fact: the real protagonist of the first few AC games, Desmond Miles, is voiced by the same actor who voices Nathan Drake! Thank you Nolan North.)

Uhtred

2. Uhtred, son of Uhtred of The Last Kingdom/Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell – This series has also been turned into a TV Show for Netflix, and Alexander Dreymon (above) does a pretty good job as Uhtred- but ultimately, he’s no Uhtred.  I don’t think it’s Dreymon’s fault, I think the show producers are cutting WAY TOO MUCH of the book’s plot lines for TV Uhtred to live up to book Uhtred.  He is compelling because his greatest downfall is his pride.  I mean, he has lots of reasons to be proud, he’s pretty much unstoppable, but it makes people hate him.  Even though they need him.  He’s a little like Geralt in that way- a necessary evil.

Ragnar Lothbrok

1. Ragnar Lothbrok of Vikings – Ragnar is far away my favorite fictional character of all time.  It’s due in large part to Travis Fimmel, who played this character brilliantly.  In the show, Ragnar is a master strategist.  He’s often ten steps ahead of his enemies (remember season 2 with King Horic? and how he conquered Paris?).  But sometimes he is curiously naive.  He admits he wasn’t the greatest father, and that he wasn’t the greatest king.  Watching him triumph and then unravel slowly over the course of the show were the greatest four seasons of television I’ve ever seen.  All the actors on the show do a phenomenal job, but it definitely lost a little of it’s spark without Ragnar around to break up the tension.

Looking at this list I was really sad not to have any women on it.  I can’t tell if this is mostly due to my personal tastes as a reader/watcher/player, or if modern media is really just lacking that many well written heroines. There are a lot of heroines I can think of that are well done and that I adore, but many of them play supporting roles to the heroes (Lagertha in Vikings, Aethelflaed and Hild in The Last Kingdom, Ciri and Yen in The Witcher, Simmea in The Just City, and Valiana val Mond of the Greatcoats.)  Writers, if you’re reading this- give me a female version of Uhtred or Ragnar (think genius warrior with fatal flaws and a sense of humor.) Readers – if that heroine is already out there- please let me know!