The Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

monstrous devicesTitle: The Monstrous Devices
Author: Damien Love
Genre: Science Fiction, Adventure
Publisher: Bloomsbury/Rock the Boat
Published: 19th May 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 352
Price: $14.99
Synopsis: A cinematic and original page-turner for fans of Indiana Jones and Alex Rider

On a winter’s day, twelve-year old Alex receives a package in the mail: an old tin robot from his grandfather. ‘This one is special,’ says the enclosed note, and when strange events start occurring around him, Alex suspects this small toy is more than special; it might be deadly.

Things get out of hand, Alex’s grandfather arrives, saving him from an attack – and his otherwise humdrum world of friends, bullies, and homework – and plunging him into the macabre magic of an ancient family feud. Together, the duo flees across snowy Europe, unravelling the riddle of the little robot while trying to outwit relentless assassins of the human and mechanical kind.

With an ever-present admiration for the hidden mysteries of our world, Monstrous Devices plunges readers into a gripping adventure that’s sure to surprise.

~*~
When the robot Alexander receives a mysterious robot from his grandfather, he has no idea what is in store for him. Soon, it seems as if the robot has come to life. Soon, Alexander and his grandfather are racing through Paris and Prague as they try to solve the mystery of the robot that comes to life and does things that Alexander never thought possible, and invites danger into their lives that is at times scary, and that Alexander and his grandfather need to get out of so they can resume their daily lives.

This intriguing novel combines adventure and quest stories, with living toys, ancient myths and stories from the past about the golem, and robots in a unique way. It merges magic and reality seamlessly, and incorporates themes of science fiction and stories of how the living robot came to be, and is at times, scary or worrying, but action packed from beginning to end as they try to bring an end to an ancient family feud fuelled by macabre magic, and people who aren’t quite who they say they are.

At times, it feels apocalyptic – as though the robot and those who want it and want to control it are going to win. It feels as though it is a whole story, that the ending wraps things up nicely. Yet at the same time, there could be a sequel. The Tall Man who appears has a connection to one of the characters that is hinted at but perhaps not wholly resolved – and as the mystery of the robot unfolds, we are told along the way about Alexander’s absent father, whose non-presence in the novel shapes the characters and forms an interesting plot line that works well not being resolved – we don’t always find out everything – yet also works to hint at a sequel – either way, this plot line is woven throughout as Alexander ponders who his father is and what is going on with the robot and his grandfather.

This is a book filled with mystery and danger at every turn, as it draws on the golem legend from Jewish culture, and a Rabbi Loewy who is linked to the robot and the store it was taken from in Prague – this theft opens up the novel – where we first meet the tall man and the young girl who accompanies him. They are a constant presence in the novel – whether on the page or off the page, and their role gives the novel the scary undertones – what do these two people want, and who are they are two questions constantly at play throughout the novel.

This was a different novel for me – most of the things I read don’t have robots. It was interesting, and perhaps gives a brief look at what things could be like if robots did take over or at least, what could happen if they could read our thoughts and act of their own volition. In this way, it was a touch scary at times, yet also engrossing – to find out if Alexander and his grandfather succeed, you have to read on. It captures the imagination and once in Prague, takes the reader somewhere new and historic. It evokes a sense of history and mystery, and magic in a place that has a long and complex history within Europe in many ways – perhaps too many to list here.

This is an interesting and mysterious read for confident readers aged nine and older, and will take you on a journey you’d never expect.

Books and Bites Book Bingo – A book with bad reviews: Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan

books and bites game card

In my tenth post for Books and Bites Book Bingo, I chose to mark off the square for a book with bad reviews. This was always going to be a subjective square – as all books are going to have good and bad reviews, so any book could really fit in here.

dark prophecy

Usually, the more popular books are more likely to have bad reviews, and this could be for many reasons – from simplistic writing, to the way the author handles the plot or issues of representation. Last year I was sent book four in the Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan – after the publication date and decided I had better read the first three first. For this category, I read Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy.

I’ve read the first two, and this is one of those series that will always have bad reviews for a variety of reasons – and sometimes, these will be a very individual reason, and might not make sense. From people feeling it is too much of one thing, or too little of another, or they simply do not like the way the Greek mythology has been dealt with, the bad reviews can be expansive, they can be brief and they might even be reviews that miss the point of the book – perhaps a commonality amongst bad reviews.

I’m getting a good pace going through this challenge – some squares have books planned in my mind, and some I’m letting fall as they come, so that lets some of the stress off me to find things all the time. With my aim to post at least once a fortnight, hopefully I will fill the card by the end of the year, but will probably post as often as possible at some point.

Book Bingo Three 2020 – A time in history you’d like to travel back to

Book bingo 2020

 

March, and my third book bingo square for my book bingo with Theresa and Amanda. For this square, I have nominated the time in history you’d like to travel back to. Sticking clear of revolutions and war, I chose a book that is set during the Minoan era, as I think it would be interesting to go back, and learn about their culture, religion and practises first hand and then bring that knowledge back to ancient historians to build on what we have so far had to infer from archaeological evidence and second hand accounts translated from Ancient Greece.

dragonfly song

The book I chose fort this square isDragonfly Song by Wendy Orr, which draws on the myths and archaeological evidence of the bull leapers of Knossos and the tribute sent yearly, or every seven years – depending on the source – by other islands to appease the minotaur, or Bull King. The most famous myth is that of Theseus, who managed to find his way out of the labyrinth but upon returning home, forgot to change the colours of the sails, and his father, Aegeus, thought his son had died and threw himself into the ocean we now call the Aegean Sea.

This book was a wonderful read and I loved finding out how the bull leaping ceremonies might have happened, where we lack a written text to properly inform us.

February 2020 Round Up

In February this year I read seventeen books – several for pleasure, some for quiz writing purposes and the rest for review purposes – most coming out in March or in the next few months.

My current total stats for my reading challenges are:

The Modern Mrs Darcy 9/12

AWW2020 -15/25

Book Bingo – 9/12

The Nerd Daily Challenge 35/52

Dymocks Reading Challenge 11/25

STFU Reading Society 4/12

Books and Bites Bingo 10/25

General Goal – 31/165

For the Book Bingo Challenges, I am aiming for one book per square, and have several posts scheduled for each one – the monthly book bingo challenge is scheduled until at least September, with three categories to go. Some challenges have multiple books in a category, which is why they might have higher numbers, and some I am still trying to find or track down the right books for some categories. As always, I have linked the reviews here to make compiling my end of year posts a bit easier.

February – 17

 

Book Author Challenge
The Secret Garden Frances Hodgson Burnett The Nerd Daily Challenge, Reading Challenge,

Books and Bites Bingo, Dymocks Reading Challenge

 

The Good Turn Dervla McTiernan Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge,

 

Dragon Masters: Future of the Time Dragon

 

Tracey West Reading Challenge,
The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia’s First Serial Murderer

 

Tanya Bretherton Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Dolphin Island: A Daring Rescue Catherine Hapka Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge
The River Home Hannah Richell Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, AWW2020
The Vanishing Deep Astrid Scholte The Nerd Daily Challenge, Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge,

 

Radio National Fictions (various short stories) Various Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
Withering-by-Sea (A Stella Montgomery Intrigue)  Judith Rossell Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, AWW2020, Dymocks Reading Challenge,
Death in the Ladies’ Goddess Club Julian Leatherdale Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge,
Hapless Hero Henrie (House of Heroes) Petra James Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge, AWW2020
The Story Puppy Holly Webb Reading Challenge
Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy Rick Riordan Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, Books and Bites Bingo
The Bell in the Lake Lars Mytting Reading Challenge, Modern Mrs Darcy Challenge
The Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valour Ally Carter Reading Challenge, Books and Bites Bingo
The Republic of Birds Jessica Miller Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, AWW2020
Captain Marvel Hero Storybook Steve Behling Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily

 

The Dark Prophecy (Trials of Apollo #2) by Rick Riordan

dark prophecyTitle: Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Published: 30th April 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 528
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: The second title in Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series – set in the action-packed world of Percy Jackson.
The god Apollo, cast down to earth and trapped in the form of a gawky teenage boy as punishment, must set off on the second of his harrowing (and hilarious) trials.
He and his companions seek the ancient oracles – restoring them is the only way for Apollo to reclaim his place on Mount Olympus – but this is easier said than done.
Somewhere in the American Midwest is a haunted cave that may hold answers for Apollo in his quest to become a god again . . . if it doesn’t kill him or drive him insane first. Standing in Apollo’s way is the second member of the evil Triumvirate – a Roman emperor whose love of bloodshed and spectacle makes even Nero look tame.
To survive the encounter, Apollo will need the help of a now-mortal goddess, a bronze dragon, and some familiar demigod faces from Camp Half-Blood. With them by his side, can Apollo face down the greatest challenge of his four thousand years of existence?

~*~

As I work my way (slowly, mainly due to other commitments) through these four books after being sent the latest by the publisher after the publication date, I’m finding the way the author includes mythology and ancient history in the modern world amidst modern issues interesting. It is first and foremost the mythology that I am interested in, and as I was sent book four late last year, decided to read the first three so I knew what to expect and what was going on.

There are some series that I find easy to read out of order, as they tend to be their own singular stories that are linked through a theme, genre or character. However, there are some that I do feel need to be read in order, and this one is one of those series. As Apollo moves through his tasks to earn back his immortality from Zeus, he keeps running into Meg, and is accompanied by Leo Valdez and sorceress Calypso as they journey across America in pursuit of Nero and those who are trying to stop Apollo.

Apollo often references all kinds of literary and musical highlights and has a running commentary about how good he is – and how he is responsible for certain bands and songs. This is secondary to the ongoing plot, and Apollo’s godlike mind and memories is at constant odds with what his mortal teenage body is capable of.

The combination of Greek and Roman elements makes sense as the Romans would eventually usurp the Greek society and culture and assign their own names to the Greek gods, goddesses and heroes. As someone who loves reading about Greek mythology, I find the way it is used in contemporary literature interesting, as each retelling and reimagining is unique, and some are very cleverly done. At the very least, this series makes it accessible to new readers and this will hopefully spark an interest in Greek mythology beyond this series.

Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess by Bettany Hughes

venus and aphroditeTitle: Venus and Aphrodite: History of a Goddess

Author: Bettany Hughes

Genre: Biography, History, Non-Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 12th November 2019

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 242

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A vivid history of the ancient goddess Venus by the bestselling historian and broadcaster Bettany Hughes

Through ancient art, evocative myth, exciting archaeological revelations and philosophical explorations Bettany Hughes shows why this immortal goddess endures through to the twenty-first century, and what her journey through time reveals about what matters to us as humans.

Charting Venus’s origins in powerful ancient deities, Bettany demonstrates that Venus is far more complex than first meets the eye. Beginning in Cyprus, the goddess’s mythical birthplace, Bettany decodes Venus’s relationship to the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and, in turn, Aphrodite’s mixed-up origins both as a Cypriot spirit of fertility and procreation – but also, as a descendant of the prehistoric war goddesses of the Near and Middle East, Ishtar, Inanna and Astarte. On a voyage of discovery to reveal the truth behind Venus, Hughes reveals how this mythological figure is so much more than nudity, romance and sex. It is the both the remarkable story of one of antiquity’s most potent forces, and the story of human desire – how it transforms who we are and how we behave.

~*~

Many gods and goddesses from various religions and myth cycles from all over the ancient world have not only fascinated people throughout the decades and centuries, but often have many counterparts. Aphrodite and Venus are two such goddesses – the same goddess from two different societies, who have gone from Greek  to Roman origins, and have been found in other incarnations in other Near East or Middle Eastern ancient cultures where they have evolved and changed as the society has needed them in their pantheon of gods and goddesses in polytheistic religions that either pre-date or run concurrently with the monotheistic religions we associate with the modern equivalents of those places.

Bettany Hughes explores the Grecian and Roman sides of the same goddess – Aphrodite and Venus, and her role in art and the pantheon, and how she came to be in each tradition, and how this influenced arts, stories and other narratives and characters throughout history.

Venus-Aphrodite is a figure that is more than nudity, romance and sex. Like many gods and goddesses, she has many more roles and layers to her, and what she brings to mythology and the understanding of humanity and human emotion. This history adds to our understanding of a goddess who is often reduced to what she is known to represent and stand for in mythology, rather than the complexities behind what she does.

Rather than justify her actions throughout the various myth cycles, Bettany Hughes explores these as part of the history of Venus-Aphrodite and how she has been represented, and what this has meant in how she is viewed and builds on this with layers and complexities.

This is an intriguing book for anyone interested in antiquity, and especially women and their role in antiquity, which is only going to build on our understanding of women and their role in the ancient world. It will help bring to life these myths in a new and exciting way.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

norse mythology redTitle: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Genre: Mythology

Publisher: Bloomsbury Australia

Published: 19th November 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 304

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The great Norse myths, which have inspired so much of modern fiction, are dazzlingly retold by Neil Gaiman. Tales of dwarfs and frost giants, of treasure and magic, and of Asgard, home to the gods: Odin the all-father, highest and oldest of the Aesir; his mighty son Thor, whose hammer Mjollnir makes the mountain giants tremble; Loki, wily and handsome, reliably unreliable in his lusts; and Freya, more beautiful than the sun or the moon, who spurns those who seek to control her.

From the dawn of the world to the twilight of the gods, this is a thrilling, vivid retelling of the Norse mythology from the award-winning, bestselling Neil Gaiman. Bringing to life the epic myths that have inspired Gaiman’s own writing, this glorious special edition for Christmas features a vibrant new red cover.

~*~

The Norse myths have been around on one way or another, like many other myths, legends and fables of various societies and cultures across the world for millennia.

Here, Neil Gaiman has taken the original myths, and retold them in an accessible and concise way, capturing everything important and interesting about them, whilst leaving enough room for the reader to do their own further reading and investigations. From here, there are many more sources that can be consulted about the creation of the Norse world, the giants, as well as Odin, Thor and Loki, and Freya and all the other gods in Asgard and the Norse underworld.

Of course, many people have retold these myths – Marvel has, of course, but sometimes, the source material is much more or even just as interesting, and can give very clever and creative insights into where the characters in the retellings have come from, and the evolutions they have gone through in each retelling, and how it relates back.

However, here, these are the myths as they are, retold in plain, modern English for the modern reader, exploring a myth cycle that has common themes with others such as Greek, Roman and Egyptian – from the formation of the world to the end of the world and everything in between.

I truly enjoyed this book, and hope other lovers of mythology will enjoy it too.

Harry Potter: A History of Magic by JK Rowling, British Library

pb history of magic.jpgTitle: Harry Potter: A History of Magic

Author: JK Rowling, British Library

Genre: Exhibition Catalogue/Non-Fiction/Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 18th February 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 256

Price: $34.99

Synopsis:Harry Potter: A History of Magic is the official book of the record-breaking British Library exhibition, a once-in-a-lifetime collaboration between Bloomsbury, J.K. Rowling and a team of brilliant curators. As the spectacular show takes up residence at the New York Historical Society from October 2018, this gorgeous book – available in paperback for the first time – takes readers on a fascinating journey through the subjects studied at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from Astronomy and Potions through to Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures.

Each chapter showcases a treasure trove of artefacts from the British Library and other collections around the world, beside exclusive manuscripts, sketches and illustrations from the Harry Potter archive. There’s also a specially commissioned essay for each subject area by an expert, writer or cultural commentator, inspired by the contents of the exhibition – absorbing, insightful and unexpected contributions from Steve Backshall, the Reverend Richard Coles, Owen Davies, Julia Eccleshare, Roger Highfield, Steve Kloves, Lucy Mangan, Anna Pavord and Tim Peake, who offer a personal perspective on their magical theme.

Readers will be able to pore over ancient spell books, amazing illuminated scrolls that reveal the secret of the Elixir of Life, vials of dragon’s blood, mandrake roots, painted centaurs and a genuine witch’s broomstick, in a book that shows J.K. Rowling’s magical inventions alongside their cultural and historical forebears.

This is the ultimate gift for Harry Potter fans, curious minds, big imaginations, bibliophiles and readers around the world who missed out on the chance to see the exhibition in person.

~*~

hplogo

I first reviewed the hardcover edition of this book when it came out in 2017, coinciding with the twentieth anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and now, have read and reviewed the same book in paperback to coincide with the upcoming twentieth anniversary of my favourite book in the series, Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban because not only do we get the fantastic Professor R.J Lupin, but Harry gains a godfather – Sirius Black. To help write this review, I have used some parts of my last review, as many of my previous comments and appreciations are the same.

Since 1997, Muggles around the world have been captured by the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, starting with the immortal lines of number four Privet Drive. Since 2017, to celebrate each twentieth anniversary, House Editions for each book, and this year, the House Edition of Harry Potter and the Prisoner pf Azkaban will be released.

hp20_230

Harry Potter: A History of Magic is an exhibition that ran at the British Library, and this book gives those who have been unable to visit the exhibition a chance to see the artefacts that inspired the magic behind the series. It shows a whole literary and historical world of magic that influences the fictional worlds.

Each subject at Hogwarts is based on a real-world example of magic – Herbology, Charms, Transfiguration, Divination and so forth. Each culture around the world had their own traditions that had similarities and differences, and reading about these was fascinating, especially ancient traditions, such as curse tablets from Ancient Greece. Exploring these aspects of magic in the real world, and exploring what they meant to the cultures they emerged from, is interesting and intriguing from a historical and literary perspective, and these traditions could be used to shape many a magical or fantastical world other than just Harry Potter.

Allowing people who could not physically get to the exhibition to experience it through the book is a good idea, and a good resource to start with if you’re researching historical aspects of magic, and many of the historical aspects were familiar to me as I have done a historical course called the Art of Magic.

This review is shorter than my hardback one, as they have the same content, but my previous review can be read here.

Pre-Release Review: Beneath the Mother Tree by D.M. Cameron

Beneath_the_Mother_Tree_cover-195x300Title: Beneath the Mother Tree

Author: D.M. Cameron

Genre: Literary Fiction, Mystery

Publisher: MidnightSun Publishing

Published: 1st August 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 336

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A spine-chilling mystery and contemporary love story, Beneath the Mother Tree plays out in a unique and wild Australian setting, interweaving Indigenous history and Irish mythology.

On a small island, something sinister is at play. Resident alcoholic Grappa believes it’s the Far Dorocha, dark servant of the Faery queen, whose seductive music lures you into their abyss. His granddaughter Ayla has other ideas, especially once she meets the mysterious flute player she heard on the beach.

Riley and his mother have moved to the island to escape their grief. But when the tight-knit community is beset by a series of strange deaths, the enigmatic newcomers quickly garner the ire of the locals. Can Ayla uncover the mystery at the heart of the island’s darkness before it is too late?

Wrought with sensuousness and lyricism, D.M. Cameron’s debut novel Beneath the Mother Tree is a thrilling journey, rhythmically fierce and eagerly awaited.

 

~*~

I received permission from the publisher to post this review before publication date to generate interest and buzz for the debut author.

The novel opens with Ayla hearing a tune played on a flute as she swims at the edge of her wild island home, where Indigenous history and Irish mythology are interwoven, and there is an understanding in the community of what happened in the past, and respect from all characters towards each other and this past. Ayla has spent her whole life on this island – and its history – Indigenous and white, and the tales of Far Dorocha and other Irish myths that she has been told by her Grappa, have informed her and created her identity.

AWW-2018-badge-rose

Riley and his mother have just moved to the island following the death of his stepfather, and instantly, Ayla’s grandfather senses that something sinister is at play when the mysterious deaths begin – and he tries to ban Ayla from seeing Riley. But as the story ebbs and flows between the viewpoints of Ayla and Riley, and at times, Riley’s mother, Marlise, the mystery that is gripping the island deepens, and it is up to Ayla and Riley, with the help of advice from friends, Riley’s stepfather’s books and the history of the island that Ayla has grown up with, they begin to look into the mysterious deaths that have occurred since Marlise arrived, and hopefully, solve the mystery that has almost destroyed the island and those that live there.

What I liked about this novel was the care that D.M. Cameron took with her research into Irish mythology and the research into the Indigenous history of the Quandamooka people and the islands near Stradbroke and Moreton Bay, and has ensured that she gave the utmost respect to these stories. This made the story richer and gave a better experience with the facts of Indigenous history, and the stories and experiences of Ayla’s friend, Mandy woven throughout.

The islanders are bonded by history and mythology, and by a tragedy that claimed the lives of two fishermen many years ago. Things are peaceful, and tranquil, as though the characters have reached an understanding of the past and what is to come, until Riley and his mother arrive. It is their presence that beings to haunt the island – and bring a feeling of unease to the novel as the reader wonders just what their motive for being there is. I found Marlise to be a suffocating character, and I suppose she was, when I think about the way she tried to control Riley. Ayla, Riley and Mandy were breaths of fresh air, and definitely my favourite characters.

Intertwined with the Indigenous history that the author carefully leant about from members of the Quandamooka community, and included sensitively, and I felt in a way that didn’t shy away from the horrors history sometimes does, and Irish mythology of the Fae, is the mystery of the deaths that Grappa says are caused by Far Dorocha, whom he thinks Riley is when he sees one of the flutes that Riley has made. I felt a sense of relief when Ayla managed to bring her Grappa around and like Riley and help him to not only uncover the mystery of what was happening on the island, but the mystery of his father, and what really happened to him. The combination of myth, history and mystery creates an atmospheric novel with a well-paced structure that climaxes effectively towards the end, and brings together the strands of history, mystery, and myth in an effective and emotive way that has the power to unite people.

I enjoyed this novel, gobbling most of it up over an afternoon yesterday. D.M. Cameron is an evocative new voice in Australian literature, and I hope she writes more novels that weave history and mythology throughout as I enjoy that sort of book.

Booktopia

Circe by Madeline Miller

CirceTitle: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller

Genre: Fantasy/Mythology Retelling

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 10th April 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist. 

Circe is the daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a beautiful naiad. Yet from the moment of her birth, she is an outsider in her father’s halls, where the laughter of gossiping gods resounds. Named after a hawk for her yellow eyes and strange voice, she is mocked by her siblings – until her beloved brother Aeëtes is born.

Yet after her sister Pasiphaë marries King Minos of Crete, Aeëtes is whisked away to rule his own island. More isolated than ever, Circe, who has never been divine enough for her family, becomes increasingly drawn to mortals – and when she meets Glaucus, a handsome young fisherman, she is captivated. Yet gods mingle with humans, and meddle with fate, at their peril.

In Circe, Madeline Miller breathes life once more into the ancient world, with the story of an outcast who overcomes scorn and banishment to transform herself into a formidable witch. Unfolding on Circe’s wild, abundant island of Aiaia, where the hillsides are aromatic with herbs, this is a magical, intoxicating epic of family rivalry, power struggles, love and loss – and a celebration of female strength in a man’s world.

~*~

Set in Ancient Greece, daughter of the sun god, Helios. and naiad, Perse, Circe is cast aside in the halls of their home as an outsider, mocked by her siblings and other gods, and named after a hawk. She is unlike anyone else, with her yellow eyes and strange voice – until her brother Aeëtes arrives, and finally, someone understands her. But still, she is isolated, as her sister, Pasiphaë marries Minos, and Aeëtes is sent away to rule his own island. So she begins meddling with mortals – Glaucus, a fisherman. When her spell backfires and he falls for her sister Scylla, the revenge she takes on Scylla sends her into an exile to Aiaia, where she traps sailors as pigs, and where one day, she meets Odysseus on his way back from Troy – a war of ten years and a journey back that has already taken several years – as told in The Odyssey. From here, Circe seals her fate as a mother and exile, and what she must endure for eternity.

The Circe (Kir-kee or Cir-cee) myth cycle is one of the most interesting myth cycles in Greek mythology. A sorceress and goddess, Circe’s most famous and well-known appearance is in The Odyssey with Odysseus when she turns his crew into swine and induces him to stay for a year on the island with her. As a witch, she used potions and magic to transform people into animals. Where most mythical retellings focus on the male heroes, Madeline Miller takes Circe’s tale and spins it into something new and fresh – Circe and what she did, her exile and how the other gods treated her and feared her – from her perspective of her role as a woman, as a goddess with the voice of a mortal but the body of a goddess and sorceress. It is Circe in her own words – what she did, what she felt when she was exiled and how she reacted to other divine figures sending their nymph daughters to her – to serve her, and in the eyes of the gods, give Circe companionship in her exile.

In Miller’s story, Circe’s dark revenge spell that she casts on her sister, Scylla, forms the backbone to this story. In a mythological world where each god, goddess and mythical figure crossover into each other’s myth cycles all the time, several other gods, goddesses and characters are woven in and out, such as Medea and Jason, seeking refuge away from Colchis, away from Aeëtes, and Pasiphaë and Minos, and the birth of the Minotaur. Madeline Miller has cleverly constructed a story that reads much like the ancient myths, but injected new life into them, amplifying the voices of the goddesses and sorceresses, and giving them a story where they are true to themselves, and where the reader goes on the emotional journey with them, never quite sure what to expect from them, or how to react to them.

Miler’s Circe is allowed to be human, though she tries to hide any instances of what the gods saw as human weakness, when it comes to her son, Telegonus, she does all she can to prevent what she fears the most. Each god and goddess show their good and bad side as well, and their ability to be heartless towards one character, yet at the same time, a patron towards another. Circe is shown as neither good nor bad, but in the grey areas in between, where many figures of mythology lie. As a lover of Greek mythology, seeing the female characters front and centre, in their own words, rather than the ancient texts, is intriguing and fascinating. Whilst still living in antiquity, modern authors give them agency and voice that ancient authors didn’t always, or that the myths didn’t allow for. The mythological world is fascinating in all its incarnations, and this latest Circe interpretation is no exception – she is feminist yet fits into her time in antiquity and uses this to her advantage, and she is individual – embracing every part of who she is because it what makes her Circe, not what Helios and the rest of her family wish she was. Circe is powerful and vulnerable in equal measure and is cautious about letting her guard down – and she is a heroine in her own right, standing up for herself and not letting the world dictate what she must do.

Booktopia