Madeline Miller’s Circe follows on her biography of Patroclus by telling the life story of the famous Greek witch. I had mentioned that The Song of Achilles was genuinely mythical, with real gods and magic, and that’s all the more true here, where Circe is a goddess, born of Titans.

If you’re like me, you’re now wrinkling your forehead like, “wait, are we talking about the witch who turns Odysseus’s men into pigs? That Circe?” Yep! Turns out that she actually pops up a lot in classical literature after Homer created her—she’s in Hesiod, she’s in Ovid, she’s in lost plays by Aeschylus, actual living Romans claimed to be descended from her, and so on. I’d link to the Wikipedia page, but if you’re not familiar with all the stories, they might actually be reasonably considered spoilers, for all that they’re centuries old.

Because what Miller does is to take all this material from this classical shared universe, which is about as retconned and inconsistent as the Marvel Universe (where Jack Kirby created the Eternal Sersi, by the way), and turns it into a story that works as a single unified whole, and that not only turns all this hodge-podge into a coherent narrative, but gives it thematic unity, psychological depth, and a compelling character arc or three.

As good as The Song of Achilles was (and it was excellent), this is even better. If you have any interest in classical Greek literature and mythology, this is basically mandatory reading; even if you don’t, it’s still strongly recommended, because it’s just that good.


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