Book Review – Circe by Madeline Miller

This book was not on my TBR. I’d heard of it, thanks to my work in libraries; there was a lot of buzz around Circe when it first came out. Co-workers raved, it made several awards lists that season, and patrons kept checking it out. And yet, it never once lured me to add it to my To-Be-Read list.

And then my school’s staff book club chose it for its Fantasy Month. Despite my misgivings about it not really being a fantasy novel, I read it all the way to the end. My book club hasn’t met yet to discuss it, but I’m ready to share my thoughts here.

Goodreads Rating: 4/5 Stars

circe book cover

Circe is the story of the Witch of Aiaia, daughter of Helios, exiled for eternity. She turned evil men to pigs, loved Daedalus, and Odysseus, and later Telemachus. She’s a figure from Greek Mythology, and this book is her first person account of her life.

The problem is, I had no idea who she was before I started this book. You see, the last time I studied mythology was my sophomore year of high school. We read Edith Hamilton and I remember hating it. Sixteen year old me found mythology so incredibly boring I blocked out all memory of the entire unit. Which really did me a disservice because this whole book HINGES on the reader knowing the bare minimum of who the F*&K Circe is! I missed out on a ton of dramatic irony and tension because I literally knew NOTHING about Circe going into this book. Whoops!

What I loved about this book:

  • The writing! Madeline Miller’s prose is absolutely gorgeous and I frequently had to stop and reread lines that took my breath away. The novel is extremely atmospheric and I appreciated how she brought these deities to life.
  • I really liked how Miller wrote Circe’s love for the various men in her life. She described them with details that showed Circe’s affection, that the way she saw them proved her love. It was beautiful.

What I didn’t love:

  • Um… the whole plot? It meandered and not a whole lot happened. Circe spent most of her time moping around and being extremely passive. She didn’t actually become an active character until she suffered at the hands of some stranded dudes who attacked her. She then takes her vengeance on pretty much all men by turning them into pigs. She doesn’t settle down until Odysseus charms her into freeing his men and sleeping with him. Which in hindsight is pretty wack.
  • The pacing. It felt very one note until the last 80 pages or so, when more characters showed up and started interacting with Circe. Looking back I think that was intentional, that Circe let her self-worth be so wrapped up in others for so long, but damn was that a looooong story to get through for her to grow.

I gave this book a 4/5 star rating pretty much purely because of the sheer beauty of the writing. For instance, “But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth. Such a constellation was he to me.”

Or perhaps, “He showed me his scars, and in return he let me pretend that I had none.”

Those are just the two examples that came to me off the top of my head and I love them. They are gorgeous. Profound. The constellation one in particular hit home while I was reading.

So, my final verdict is this: a gorgeous book that’s just a little too slow for my taste. I like an atmospheric read for my short fiction, but expect a bit more punch for my novels apparently. I’m reading Gideon the Ninth right now, which more than makes up for what Circe lacked in grit, so I’ve got that going for me.

If I get City of Ghosts finished before the end of the weekend I might eke in a book review for it. If not, I’ll talk at you all on Monday!

‘Til then, Blogland!

 

BZ

Book Review- Golden Son by Pierce Brown

I love the internet. Seriously, as messed up as it frequently is, it’s also a beautiful thing. For instance, in order to better get in the right state to talk about Golden Son after so long, I turned to 8tracks. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s pretty much the best.

People make playlists and share them with the world. But, you can tag them, and search accordingly. Apparently video game and book nerds are alive and well on 8tracks, because I typed in Red Rising and was offered a dozen or more playlists inspired by the trilogy.

I’ve done this for other books and video games before, and there’s nothing better when you’re stuck in a story hangover.

Anyway, you might want to read my Red Rising review before you jump into this one.

Ready? Let’s talk a bit about Golden Son. Be warned, spoilers abound!

goldenson
It’s been a couple weeks since I finished the second book in Pierce Brown’s trilogy and I have just under 200 pages left in its conclusion. For a series that so underwhelmed me at its onset, I have been utterly captivated by these characters.

So, Golden Son opens with Darrow at the Academy. Roque and Tactus are with him, as is Antonia’s older sister Victra. Spoiler alert, she’s way cooler than her bitch sister. Still a bitch, but way cooler. Anyway, the Academy is to teach Naval warfare. Darrow is a Praetor of a fleet, and must dictate their motions and actions. It’s going well, he’s got Karnus au Bellona (Cassius’s brother) on the run. Until a trap is launched and Darrow loses. He comes in second overall, but losing to the sworn enemy of house Augustus makes him worthless in Nero’s eyes. His contract will be sold at the Gala celebrating the end of the year of Academy.

But, Darrow has other plans. A ton of them. One of my favorite things about this series is the plotting. There’s a large cast of characters, and they all have their own ambitions and schemes to achieve them.

darrow
Amazing Darrow fan art by PhantomRun, found at the Red Rising Wikia page.

The Jackal plays a pivotal role in this book, mainly as a tentative ally to Darrow. And there’s a lot of tension over this alliance. Roque disagrees as a matter of principal. Tactus thinks it’s risky at best. Victra wants to put Jackal out of their misery. And Mustang warns Darrow that nothing good could come from aligning with her brother.

Spoiler alert. She’s right.

But, before the Jackal bares his teeth, Darrow duels Cassius at the Gala, earning Nero’s favor again, and preserving his position at the ArchGovernor’s side. And then all hell breaks lose as the Sovereign attempts to murder the entire house Augustus.

It’s exactly what Darrow wanted. Civil War. The Golds of Mars have entered into war with the Sovereign, and Darrow uses the promise of making Nero the new Sovereign to keep the man moving in the direction Darrow wants.

But, per Pierce Brown’s usual, nothing goes quite to plan. And although Darrow is largely victorious by the end, the toll is high. Characters die, and it’s not until you read their last words, their last breaths, and Darrow’s reaction to them, that you realize just how deeply you cared for all of them. Even obnoxious dipshits like Tactus.

And he takes the ultimate risk. He takes Mustang to Lykos, he shows her the truth. And she runs from him.

Only  then does Jackal makes his move, murdering his father, and others, as well as capturing Darrow. All with the help of Roque. To his credit, the Poet of Deimos cries when he betrays Darrow, but that doesn’t make it any easier to read. The betrayal burns hot in you, and you hate that little man you once loved so much, even as you mourn the guilt he’s feeling.

sevro
More from PhantomRun, this time of Sevro.

And that’s how the book ends. We know that Sevro, Mustang, and the Telemanuses (Pax’s father and brother) are missing. They weren’t present at Jackal’s slaughter. And Darrow is now in his evil hands, to be dissected to discover how he was Carved.

End. Scene.

Now, I’ve glossed over a lot, and I mean a lot, of the larger plot points. There are quite a few revelations as far as the Sons of Ares is concerned. There’s a ton more word-building, and character development is on point throughout the book.

What Brown really does well is pacing and plotting. This book flew by, dragging me with it as it twisted and turned. I mourned characters. Their deaths, their failures, their heartbreaks. I cheered for them. Their triumphs, their joys.

And that’s why I hurtled into the next book. And already I’m mourning the end of this series. Mourning the very thought of saying goodbye to these people I’ve come to love so much. I’m just not ready.

Anyway, I’ll probably still finish the book sometime this weekend. Ugh. I’ll see you all then.

 

BZ

 

P.S. I’ll leave you with this gem, sang by Sevro in Golden Son. sevro-song

 

 

Book Review- Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Obviously March has not been my month.

So far, the spring has demanded a lot of my time, between school, jobs, and friends visiting from out of town. Throw in a migraine and a friend’s house-warming party, and I’m just about spent.

Is it August yet?

Anyway, I’m here to talk to you all about the first book in Pierce Brown’s trilogy, Red Rising. I don’t plan on going into too much detail, because there are entirely too many, so you should be fairly safe to continue without being spoiled. red rising

This story follows Darrow, a sixteen year old boy whose life is almost halfway over. His people, known as Reds, mine the planet of Mars in order to make way for the rest of humanity to come and terraform the planet. Mining for Helium-3 is a dangerous profession, and most of his kin doesn’t make it past thirty-five. Reds, called such for their rusty hair, eyes, and complexion, lead simple and extremely difficult lives.

And by the end of the first act of the book, Darrow’s life has been particularly hard. His father was hanged for protesting. And so was his wife, his beloved Eo. And so, after her death, Darrow was hanged for burying her body instead of burning it.

Now, this book takes awhile to pick up because the established world, the world Darrow knows… Well, it’s not everything he was told. And a huge portion of the book goes to building this world, and explaining the convoluted caste system. It’s all based on colors, with Golds at the top and Reds at the bottom.

And Darrow? Well, he’s going to do the impossible. He’s going to become a Gold. And he’s going to destroy them from the inside out.

That’s the plan anyway.

This book took me a while to warm up to. The first act, only 40ish pages long, was choppy and short, with Darrow’s first person narrative devoid of any sort of style or sense of individuality, except for when he described Eo. She was my favorite thing about the story before her death.

There’s so much to develop in this book. Complex characters with their own motivations come in and out of Darrow’s life, and as the book progresses the training wheels come off. Soon the reader is responsible for understanding the slang that Gold’s speak, and how it differs from that of the other Colors. A Red might say one thing in a certain scenario, while a Gold would say something entirely different, and by the end of the book, that is the reader’s responsibility to catch and attach meaning to.

Overall, as the book picked up in the final quarter, I really enjoyed it. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and they are all distinct and enjoyable. Mustang and her determined optimism, Servo and his devoted wickedness, Pax and his good humor and burly nature. So many Golds that we’re supposed to hate, and yet love anyway. And then there’s others, so many others that you actually do hate!

Red-Rising-2
House Mars

Another great thing about this book is its creative use of Greek Mythology. Now, I know my basics, but I’m by no means an expert. I’m sure there were references I didn’t get, or names that could have hinted to me that a character would turn out a certain way, but I don’t think my lack of knowledge detracted from the reading experience in any way.

Also, you might not expect this, because many label this book as young adult, but it deals with many adult themes. Murder, gruesome deaths (a personal favorite of mine involves people climbing out of dead horses to attack a fort), betrayal, and rape (that happens off screen). But still, there’s a lot of very mature content, either on screen or alluded to.

The emotions are very real in this book. Darrow grows a lot, and I can’t wait to see where he ends up in the next book. The tension of Red Rising is far from settled, in fact, these problems are likely to get much worse for Darrow before they get better.

And that’s good writing.

Even if it was slow.

So, my recommendation? Don’t give up. Because you’ll want to. At least, if you’re like me, you’ll get bored, and you’ll predict a few things and think that the book has no surprises to offer.

You’re wrong. Keep reading, I promise it’s worth the time.

I’m sorry this review was so long in coming, and that it’s not as effervescent as my usual reviews. I finished it at the beginning of the month, and if I tried to go back now and track the details for you, I’d just make a mess of things. So, I hope this review gives a little insight, and helps you decide whether you should read it or not.

Again, I think it’s more than worth your time. And I can’t wait to read the sequel, Golden Son.goldenson

Until next time, Blogland.

 

BZ