Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe is the daughter of the sun god Helios and sea nymph Perse. She’s the ugly daughter with a voice like a human and no special power, unlike her brothers and sister. When she takes revenge on another nymph, she discovers her strength almost by accident. As a result, her father and Zeus exile her to the island of Aiaia.

It’s always a nice feeling when your first book of the year will make it to your the end-of-year favorites list. Circe is Miller’s long-awaited second novel and undoubtedly her best yet. Where ‘A Song for Achilles’ opts for a young adult drama during the Trojan War, we dive into the Odyssey with a much more balanced story. Don’t get me wrong, I loved ‘A song for Achilles’ because of its heartbreak and rawness, but I’m glad Miller tries something else with this novel.

Circe is a goddess, a witch so to speak, who is exiled and welcomes on her island all kinds of other gods and people. Hermes, Pasiphae and the minotaur, Daedalus, Medea and Jason and, of course, Odysseus. Circe spans a period of thousands of years and covers several myths that I had not all linked to Circe beforehand. This makes for a well-paced story but from part two onwards, we really do work towards Circe’s own story and her relationship with Odysseus and his family.

In terms of style, this book is more mature than her previous one. But as Circe is exiled, she doesn’t know what’s happening in the world. So she’s only kept informed through others which puts her out of the action at times.

So while I really liked the plot and Circe’s character, the book may just be missing what Nathalie Haynes does have in her books: multiple mythical characters speaking so that you are always in the middle of the action. However, this is an example of the better storytelling that can make you fall in love with the genre of Greek myth retellings. By the way, I never really liked Odysseus and this book isn’t helping :).

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Have you read Circe? Did you enjoy it? Do you prefer A song for Achilles?

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Nefertiti by Michelle Moran

The family of the sisters Nefertiti and Mutnodjmet has always been close to the Egyptian throne. When the heir dies, Nefertiti is married off to his younger brother Amunhotep. But Amunhotep wants to build a new Egypt. He worships the sun god Aten and has wild plans to build a new capital. When he becomes pharaoh, he even changes his name to Akhenaten, as tribute to this new religion. It now falls down to Nefertiti to restrain her husband. But she faces numerous challenges. In the north the Hittites are trying to regain ground. And then there is Akhenaten’s other wife Kiya and her family who are all too eager to take over the power behind the throne. Meanwhile, Mutnodjmet tries to build a life in her sister’s shadow, but that isn’t easy.

This is my very first book about ancient Egypt. So this means I know little to nothing about Nefertiti’s life and this novel seemed like a good introduction. The book is narrated by Mutnodjmet, Nefertiti’s half-sister. ‘Mutje’ and Nefertiti are opposites and this makes for an engaging story.

Although the book is set so many centuries ago, I immediately found many similarities with, let’s say, the Tudor period. Nefertiti is trying to change the religious beliefs of her country as the second wife and struggling to produce a male heir to the throne. It immediately brings to mind Anne Boleyn. I can say little about the historical accuracy of this book. We know so little about that time. I read that we are not even sure which mummy is Nefertiti’s, or if she is yet to be discovered.

So it was up to Moran to fill in the gaps and come up with a believable story. And for me, she did just that. It’s a light book with plenty of drama. The ending was a bit quick I thought, but it was fitting. However, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed this book as much if it was about events I know well. But just because it was all new to me, I could fully empathize with the different characters. And I got to know a few Egyptian customs a lot better.

Nefertiti and Akhenaten, and by extension the entire 18th dynasty, lived during fascinating and turbulent times. I definitely want to give Moran’s other books a chance too now.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Have you read anything good about Ancient Egypt?

Stone blind by Nathalie Haynes

Medusa is a Gorgon, but unlike her two immortal sisters Sthenno and Euryale, she’s a mere mortal girl. During a visit to Athena’s temple, she’s raped by the sea god Poseidon. The goddess takes her revenge afterwards by cursing Medusa with snake hair like her sisters and a deadly stare. Anyone who looks at her turns to stone. Meanwhile, Perseus, son of the supreme god Zeus and the mortal Danae, must go on a quest to save his mother from a forced marriage. His mission? The head of a Gorgon.

There’s no one who can tell more enthusiastically about Greek myths than Nathalie Haynes in the press, podcasts or her non fiction books. This enthusiasm can also be found in her novels. Stone blind is an absolute gem!

Stone blind tells Medusa,’s story, but it isn’t the story you’re familiar with. In this book everything is turned upside down. Gorgons are not monsters with snake heads and Perseus is not the hero of the day, but a stupid boy who can achieve nothing without help from the Gods.

And those Gods, perhaps even more than Medusa, play the leading role. Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hermes, Athena… They watch over the humans and play with them. There’s a lot of humour in the chapters of the Gods, but also quite a bit of drama. They are always fighting each other or cursing mortals.

Just as in ‘A thousand ships‘, the chapters are told alternately from many perspectives. Medusa, Athena, Perseus and Andromeda pass by frequently, but Haynes chooses so many different characters who all contribute to the story in their own right. This is storytelling in its purest form. I did like the chapters of Medusa and her sisters the most and disliked Perseus off course . I hadn’t heard about Cassiope or her daughter Andromeda before, so this was a new story to me. It all falls nicely into place at the end of the book.

No matter how good the books of Madeline Miller, Pat Barker or Jennifer Saint, Nathalie Haynes is the true queen of Greek myth retellings. I hope there will be another book soon and in the meantime I must make time for ‘the children of Jocasta’.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is book 12/20 for ‘20 books of summer‘. What’s your favourite Greek myth retelling?