Book Review: Circe

I’m not sure what I was expecting when I picked up this book, but it certainly wasn’t what I got. Not to say I was disappointed; if anything, the book exceeded my expectations. For a book steeped in Greek mythology, it came across as surprisingly human. Then again, maybe that makes it the perfect retelling for the modern age: just as the ancients created the myths to explain their own beliefs, so Madeline Miller reflects upon key questions of modern society.

The book is about Circe (shocking, I know), and places her within retellings of many Greek myths, both well-known and less so, as she lives out her immortal life. Many of the names will be familiar to even someone with a cursory knowledge of ancient Greek culture, yet there are many who most people will never have heard of. the true beauty of this book is how Miller manages to weave her versions of many stories into one broad, compelling narrative, with Circe at the centre.

At its core, I feel the book is a character study of Circe. It’s hard to describe her personality, as her character development is the key component of the book, and who she starts as is a world away (quite literally) from where she ends up. Yet this development is done masterfully, at a pace so gradual that it was completely unnoticeable as I was reading, yet strikingly obvious now that I am reflecting upon it.

Circe also represents a strong feminist component to the book. She has to endure growing up in a patriarchal society, where the powerful gods take whatever they fancy, willing or not. Later, there is an exploration of what it means to be the woman in a relationship, as well as the ‘purpose’ of a woman’s live and what motherhood entails. Circe easily carries the book by being a deeply complex character who quickly outgrows many of the traditional archetypes that often pen in female characters.

One of my favourite elements of the book was seeing classic myths retold with a new focus on the woman’s perspectives in them. Woman never fared well in myths, often considered untrustworthy or inferior, their views overlooked. Miller works to rectify this, without diminishing the pettiness, tragedy or ignorant stubbornness omnipresent within this type of story. By getting this new view, we get a look at morals for a new age.

Given the prominence of the themes within the novel, it should be no surprise that it felt quite existential. The writing often felt very contemplative, yet made good use of foreshadowing and other literary techniques to keep me interested. Miller crafted a story that was captivating at a surface level, yet was fully of hidden meaning below.

Overall, I’d give it a 6.5 out of 7. As I’ve been writing this review, I realized just how much subtext I missed at first glance. I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has an interested in Greek mythology, but I also think it is a tale of female empowerment which i couldn’t fully appreciate, having never lived those experiences. Therefore, I think it’s a great piece of feminist literature.

#RRABC Book Review: Wasteland

Today’s book review is special, as it’s part of Rosie’s Review-A-Book Challenge. I’d like to thank Rosie for the free copy of Wasteland I got for the challenge, and I think there is still time to participate if you’re interested. Without further ado, onto the review!

Wasteland just got better and better as I was reading. It might start off slowly, since it’s worldbuilding is monumentally ambitious, but once it gets going it never slows down. The book has plenty to say about family, poverty, activism and democracy, social media, liberty… the list just goes on. I could spend all day dissecting its multifaceted themes. For me, it felt very reminiscent of the Children of Men film.

The novel is set in a dystopian version of the UK far in the future. Most of the population has moved or been moved into megacities – vast urban centres that can meet all needs, so that their residents never have to leave. The government controls almost every aspect of its citizens’ lives, and they are taught not to question. Outside the megacities is the wasteland, home to those who have escaped the government’s iron fist. 

The story centres on Rae, a young woman who has grown up in the orphanage system within a megacity. Upon learning that her family might still be alive, she starts to question what it is that she wants. Along her journey, there is a constant flow of diverse characters – it’s a real strength of the book. We can see the effects of the harsh world upon a whole host of characters, which gives small insights into a whole host of differing viewpoints and allows for interesting discussions of the various themes.

While Rae’s story was great, and she evolved seamlessly throughout the book, it was Dylan’s journey that was a highlight. His part was relatively small, since he was a secondary character, but I believe it to be crucial to understand the human aspect of the government’s policies. He encapsulates the idea that luck has a lot to do with your position in the world, and I found it impossible not to feel for him.

I found that the themes of the book mesh together to act as a study of humanity. It painted a poor picture of us, often being very cynical. Yet, despite all the flaws it exposed, it manages to maintain a spark of hope throughout – the idea that no matter what, humanity will find a way. I also don’t feel that Terry Tyler’s exploration of themes in any way impeded the overall flow of the story, something I’m always wary of when books have a strong message. However, the ambitious nature of the novel did mean that some themes are only touched on at a shallow level. I didn’t find this an issue personally though, since there is more than enough food for thought.

In my opinion, the book really comes into its own in the last 3rd. There was a twist that I didn’t see coming at all, which was great, and then the pace is relentless from there on out. It’s one of those that I just couldn’t put down, since the tension and stakes are so high and I was hugely invested in the characters.

Overall, this book has made me really excited to read more of Terry Tyler’s work. It was really easy to read as a standalone book, despite kind of being a sequel (it’s set in the same world as another book, but many years later). My only small criticism is that the writing occasionally was a bit awkward, so I had to reread bits which I misunderstood because I’d missed a word that was in an unexpected place. However, it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment, and would suggest that you don’t let it put you off in any way. Therefore, I give the book 6 out of 7, and would easily recommend it to lovers of sci-fi and dystopia. I’d also recommend it more widely, but warn that it can be quite bleak in places, so don’t go for it if that’s not your thing.