Circe

CirceCirce by Madeline Miller

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 333 pp

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing UK

Year: 2018

Circe is the tale of a fascinating but somewhat overlooked woman from Greek myth. She is the daughter of the sun god Helios, a lesser divinity, immortal, and a witch. She has the power to transform things and she knows the inherent magic in plants. Most of us know her from her role in The Odyssey, which was significant even if it wasn’t long. This novel tells her tale from her childhood, her self-discovery, and how she finds a place for herself in the harsh world of the gods.

I absolutely loved how Circe deals with her role in and among the gods. She never has an easy time – she has the worst time, really – but she is a woman in a man’s world and she still makes a place for herself. She is seen, and forces the divinities to acknowledge her in some way, whether any of them like it or not, including her. I think this really mirrors the experiences of modern women in that we still struggle to be seen and be taken for granted, not be underestimated, and not shuffled off or ignored as though we are worthless.

When Circe encounters Prometheus, it sets the stage for her entire life. She learns she can defy the gods to an extent. Perhaps she will be punished for her defiance if she gets caught, but she also learns they don’t actually know everything and there are things people can do and get away with that they never know about. She manages to make this idea central in her own life, defying the gods in subtle and not so subtle ways.

I really loved the way crafts were woven throughout as well. They were, however, divided by traditional gender roles. It makes sense within the context of the narrative, though, since Circe, Penelope, Medea, were expected to know certain things and not others, and vice versa for Odysseus or Daedalus. The women knew weaving and spinning, herb lore, healing and midwifery. The men knew smithing, metalwork, sculpting, and woodworking. Breaking down crafts by gender roles reinforces the  roles and highlights the fact that even the gods are similar to humans in this world, which is super interesting because, even though the gods are immortal and have various powers, they are still limited in some ways with what they can do. They are governed largely by their emotions and desires. In many of the ways that count, they act more like immortal toddlers than as wise beings. Humans tend to be more reasonable in some situations than the gods, which I think is interesting. Is it how Circe sees the gods and humans, or is that how it truly is here? Intriguing commentary, either way.

There are just too many things that could be discussed for one review – how parents view their children and vice versa; the relationship between Circe and her sister Pasiphae or her brother Aeetes; how Daedalus affects Circe; Medea; Penelope, Telemachus, and Odysseus; power dynamics; transformations of a multitude variety. Like the Greek myths themselves, you could probably write a dissertation about the ways to interpret this novel, how the characters influence each other and the world around them, gender roles and expectations, or the role of choice and fate. I loved this book, and I love strong women, and strong women figuring out that they are strong is just the best.

I haven’t even gotten into the sheer beauty of Miller’s writing style. I think I will have to do a separate post just with my favorite lines from the book.

In any case, this is very highly recommended and an excellent way to get a ton of Greek mythology without reading the source material, if that isn’t really your thing. Though everyone should read The Iliad and The Odyssey at least once in their life.

Round-Up: Christy Nicholas books

One of my favorite authors, still sadly an obscure name, is Christy Nicholas. I had the good fortune to review a few of her books for Discovering Diamonds. A few of her other books are also reviewed on DDRevs by my fellow reviewers which I didn’t read, but they are worth checking out for sure. One reason I enjoy Nicholas’s books so much is because she imbues them with so much feminine power. They are accurate within the scope of their timeframe, yet the women in each one are strong, bold, as feminist as possible. She pushes the boundaries of creating feminist characters and isn’t shy to use mythical characters, such as The Morrigan, to be more feminist. I fucking love it. 

Below are a couple reviews, submitted as a guest post by Cathy Smith, who is also a reviewer at DDRevs. My own reviews of Nicholas’s books that have already been posted can be found both on DDRevs as well as on this blog. 

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Legacy of Hunger: Druid’s Brooch Series: 1

Reviewed by: Cathy Smith

Read it as a: digital galley

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds.

Length: 306 pp

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2015

Legacy of Hunger, book one of Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch Series, takes readers on an unforgettable quest from the shores of 1846 America to the distressed Irish countryside of Valentina McDowell’s ancestors. Driven by her mother’s legends and a desire to find an old family brooch, Valentina finds early on in her quest that she will discover friendship and come to realize the betrayal of enemies. She will see beauty and face tragedy. Guided by her mystical visions, Valentina’s journey is filled with joy and sorrow as each step of the quest prepares her for what awaits at the end.

Nicholas does an excellent job developing the story by painting detailed descriptions of the characters themselves, their past, and their present. Readers also feel the intensity of the characters’ personalities through the descriptive images of the ship’s voyage across the sea and of the Irish villages and countryside. Nicholas stays true to the history of 19th century Ireland. She uses this history, as well as the legends from the ancients, to provide readers with a real-world sense of Valentina’s adventures.

As I experienced Valentina’s journey to find the answers to the mysteries that haunted her from childhood, I thought of a time when my own father told me the story of his grandmother who came to America as an indentured servant during the An Gorta Mór – The Great Hunger. He told the story of how she met my great-grandfather while working off her servitude in a well-known Colorado bar.  As I read Nicholas’ story, I realized that the legacy of hunger is a legacy that affects generations of people even into the 21st century.

Although Nicholas provides closure in the last chapter and epilogue, the happily or not so happily ever after resolutions of the individual character stories left me with deeper questions.  It is my hope to see future novels that develop some of these characters’ journeys.

Legacy of Hunger is the story of the Irish people who suffered during the Great Hunger.  It is the story of how Valentina McDowell journeys to find her strength, courage, and inner soul by overcoming the challenges to complete a quest that reveals her destiny.

Other books by Christy Nicholas:

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Legacy of Truth: Druid’s Brooch Series: 2I don’t have a link to any DDRevs review of this one.
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Legacy of Luck: Druid’s Brooch Series: 3. I don’t have a link to any DDRevs review for this one, either.
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Misfortune of Vision: Druid’s Brooch Series: 4. You can read the review on my blog, since I’m the one who wrote it for DDRevs. 
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Misfortune of Song: Druid’s Brooch Series: 5. I don’t have a link to any DDRevs review for this one. I should see about getting this to do a review.
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Misfortune of Time: Druid’s Brooch Series, 6. Again, you can read it on DDRevs, linked above, or the exact same one on my blog since I wrote the review for them. 

Nicholas also has a standalone novel that I reviewed for DDRevs as well, Call of the Morrigu. The full review is here, as I forgot to post it to my own blog before now. 

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Call Of The Morrigú

I read it as a: digital galley

Source: Helen Hollick at Discovering Diamonds.

Length: 217 pp

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2017

In late 1700s Ireland, rebellion against oppressive English rule was on the rise. In one quiet corner, however, society was still relatively peaceful. Theodosia “Dosey” Latimer lives with her grandfather in their family’s country estate of Strokestown. On the property, they discover a mysterious cave filled with ancient carvings and decide to try to excavate it. In the process, they accidentally awaken The Morrigan. Yes, that Morrigan. The mythical Irish war goddess. Now it is up to Dosey and her grandfather to teach Morrigan how to behave like a proper 18th century lady – and keep her out of the rebellion coming their way.

This was, simply put, a remarkably fun read. Author Christy Nicholas weaves in mythology and history smoothly throughout the narrative. Readers are given glimpses of Celtic myth alongside bits of information about the 1798 Irish Rebellion, led by Wolfe Tone. Parts of the story were surprisingly funny as well. Morrigan learning 18th century table manners is exactly what you would hope for.

The parts of the book that I most appreciated were its many feminist elements. Feminism was a necessary component of the plot for Dosey to be able to grow as a character and a woman. She also was a product of her time and none of her actions were unbelievable or out of place in the story. However, it’s hard for me not to cheer and fall in love with characters who make comments like “I do not understand the shame your society has for the body. It is a glorious thing, full of life and pleasure” or “You are power. You are woman. All woman are power.” Here, Morrigan was reflecting what was understood to be the typical pre-Christian culture of ancient Ireland (or at least the author’s interpretation of it), but it remains highly relevant in today’s society where women’s rights are still challenged and threatened by the patriarchy. Having a mythical character speak the words makes them no less relevant, and allows a certain safe distance from which we can examine our modern morals and values. I loved it.

My only criticism is that I felt some of the secondary characters could have been developed a little more. I wanted to get to know Nan better, and Cillian and Marcus. They were fine, but they felt like they were placeholders or extras just playing a necessary part in a formula. However, they were not totally flat or one-dimensional, either, and they served their respective purposes well enough.

Overall, I loved this book and look forward to reading more by this author. Strongly recommended for anyone who is interested in Irish mythology, history, or the influence of women on either subject.

Pandora the Curious

13547083Pandora the Curious by Joan Holub

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my daughter’s collection

Length: 256 pp

Publisher: Aladdin

Year: 2012

In this ninth installation in the GoddessGirls series, Pandora opens that bloody box. The Titans, Epimetheus and Prometheus, are new students at Mount Olympus Academy and they are rather outcasts for the role the Titans played in the war between the Titans and Olympians. Spoiler alert: the Titans lost. Epimetheus has a box with him that makes odd noises and, of course, Pandora is intensely curious about it. When the godboys decide to play a game of keep-away with the box, it falls into Pandora’s hands without anyone noticing and it opens. Almost as if it were fated to do so. Huh. The box contained ten bubbles, which all floated out except one. Pandora seems to be the only one able to see the bubbles, so she is also the only one able to observe the effects of the bubbles bumping into people. So when Athena, for example, is bubble-bumped, Pandora hears it whisper “Ditz” and then Athena turns stupid. Similarly, another bubble bumps Aphrodite and whispers “rude,” and Aphrodite proceeds to become a vulgar and disgusting example of everyone one ought not to do, ever. Pandora doesn’t know whether or not to trust the Titans with this information, because she thinks they may have come to MOA to help take over and pave the way for a new Titan war against the Olympians. She has to decide who to trust and figure out how to reverse the effects of the bubbles before all hope is lost. See what I did there?

As with all the previous books in this series, Pandora the Curious provides an excellent way to begin teaching younger readers about the Classical myths. This one also provided a good example of troubleshooting and problem solving as well as making sure to give people second chances and not to judge based on a group but rather on an individual basis. Pandora learns a lot about herself and how curiosity can be both good and bad, depending on how it is used. She also learns that just because a person is a Titan and fought against the Olympians doesn’t make them a bad person and she should always take an individual approach to judging someone. This was a good way to talk about a variety of social issues with my daughter. We see in the news a lot of racism and sweeping generalizations made about entire groups of people. So we had a chat about how any group of people can include bad people, but that we should always try to get to know the person in front of us and not judge them or assume they are bad just because someone else like them did a bad thing. That’s no way to live.

Overall, the series has piqued my daughter’s interest in mythology, all kinds, not just Greco-Roman. At the end of the day, even if some of the stuff is silly or trite, I can live with that because of the interest it’s sparked in her for better things.

 

 

 

The Winter of the Witch

42082394The Winter of the Witch: A Novel (Winternight Trilogy) by Katherine Arden

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Kathleen Gati

Source: my own collection

Length: 14:00:00

Publisher: Random House Audio

Year: 2019

Picking up right where The Girl in the Tower left off, Vasilisa Petrovna finds herself the focus of the rage of Moscow’s people after inadvertently burning down a large part of the city. Accused of witchcraft, with the mob’s hatred fanned by the insane monk Konstantin, Vasya manages to escape into the realm of Midnight, a place where all midnights of the past, present, and future exist, but not before making a sacrifice that absolutely gutted me. In Midnight, Vasya meets many new characters, some friendly, others not so much. One of the best was the little mushroom spirit who made it a point to tell everyone that he was the first to support her quest. Baba Yaga also makes an important appearance. Vasya also learns that she has some surprising new abilities and the reasons for them, which draw the attention of the winter king Morozko. His twin brother, Medved, is bent on creating chaos in the spirit world and world of men, and Vasya and Morozko have to find a way to stop him. As if that all weren’t enough for her to worry about, Vasya also has to navigate the politics of the secular world to help save Rus from an invading horde of Tatars.

There isn’t really a good way to summarize this book. It is a satisfying end to the trilogy and I loved it, though I do think it is my least favorite of the three. I am not sure if it is simply because I was listening to it on audio (as I did the other two as well) and, because of work and personal schedules and things, I had a lot of days where I wasn’t able to listen at all, or not with my full attention. It felt a little disjointed in places, but that could have been me. In any case, Arden’s writing remains as lush and evocative as ever. I think I have to buy physical copies of this trilogy and eyeball read them all now, I loved this series that much.

Winter of the Witch dealt closely with destiny, identity, and loyalty, and how those influence people and their interactions. Just so many factors come into play – love, lust, fear, hate – and each one leaves its mark on Vasya. She learns hard lessons and makes some horrific sacrifices. She finds the only kind of love she could tolerate. She finds the place she belongs. She’s grown from a wild little girl into a strong and capable woman, with her own skills and secrets and pain and joys. Any woman would be proud to have a daughter such as her.

Favorite quotes:

“There are no monsters in the world, and no saints. Only infinite shades woven into the same tapestry, light and dark.”

“Yesterday she saved your life, slew a wicked magician, set fire to Moscow and then saved it all in a single night. Do you think she will consent to disappear, for the price of a dowry – for any price?’’

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Image courtesy of Pixabay. Maybe it’s Solovey?

“I was asleep but those two woke me up. I missed you.”

“Who is to say, in the end, that the three guardians of Russia are not a witch, a frost-demon, and a chaos-spirit? I find it fitting.”