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BookTok worth it or not: ‘Circe’ and ‘The Song of Achilles’

It was spring break last week and you know what that means, I stayed in and read on your behalf once again! I found a number of cute bookstores over break, now I will insert a shameless plug to Trident Booksellers and The Concord Bookstore for supporting my reading addiction. Anyway, here is my spiel—-I watch BookTok (on Instagram reels), I get books, I read books, I write about said books. You can either take my advice or leave it. Since I had a lot of time on my hands, this week’s review is a twofer. The victims are Madeline Miller’s works “‘The Song of Achilles” and “Circe”. 

“‘The Song of Achilles” has gotten all of the hype on TikTok. Even my roommate who I thought was illiterate has read it. “Song of Achilles”  has been labeled on people’s list of “books that I would let hurt me again” right next to Colleen Hoover’s “It Ends With Us.” So you should be aware going in that you’re gonna get wrecked—but in a good way if that makes sense. 

If you are at all familiar with the mythology behind the Trojan war, you already know where this story is going. But Miller puts her own twist on the classic tragedy, which makes the story fun to read despite knowing how it will end. The plot centers around the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. In Greek Mythology, Achilles is described as “the greatest of all Greek warriors,” and he plays a crucial role in the Trojan War. Achilles is described as having a companion, Patroclus, whose death causes Achilles to face a “deep grief.” Therefore, I think it is absolutely genius of Miller to make them more than just companions but lovers. It makes so much sense for love to drive this grief and I think the execution of Miller unpacking and building the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is nothing short of perfection. 

Miller’s writing is beautiful in the re-telling and the narrative does a good job of adhering to the literature it is based upon while also taking it in new creative directions. The story addresses the complexities in Greek mythology over who is who and why anyone is fighting. But amongst the war and fighting, Miller has also weaved this love story to juxtapose the brutality that is typically associated with Greek myths. I also like that this wasn’t a typical Trojan War retelling, Briseis—  a war prize granted to Achilles—has much more agency in this story, and thank the freaking lord I didn’t have to read about Paris and Helen, the couple who spark the war itself. 

“Circe” has also been featured on TikTok, though not nearly to the same extent as “‘The Song of Achilles.” “Circe” is more common in the sub-branch of Greek Mythology BookTok. As you could guess, it is very niche, which is how I stumbled across it. 

I will admit, going into “Circe” it is beneficial to have a background in Greek mythology. “‘The Song of Achilles” definitely doesn’t require as big of an understanding since it just focuses on the characters involved in the Trojan war, whereas “Circe” explores multiple myths including Dadelaus and Icarus, the minotaur, Odysseus and Jason. 

There are a lot more moving parts in “Circe” and it spans over a greater time frame. I think Miller executes this well, you just have to be ready to meet a lot of characters. Which I understand might not be everyone’s cup of tea. 

If you couldn’t guess from the title, the book centers around Circe—a witch from Greek Mythology. This woman could have written a book on girl-bossing, gatekeeping and gaslighting for everything she has done. I mean she turned a b*tch into an ugly sea monster, she transformed men who tried to take advantage of her into pigs and then ATE THEM LIKE A FREAKING BOSS and she delivered her sister’s child who turned out to be the freaking minotaur I mean come on it doesn’t get better than this.  

Circe is one of the older characters in Greek mythology, outdating the heroes like Achilles, Odysseus and Jason, which means there is a lot more material for this narrative. Once again, “Circe” adheres to the mythology pretty well and I love seeing the stories of the aforementioned heroes all cross over into Circe’s path. It’s interesting because she is often featured as a sidepiece in men’s stories but in this book, they are sidepieces to her narrative. This is really cool since women aren’t well represented in mythology or if they are they are typically formed through the male gaze. 

Be ready for incest. Miller doesn’t change the structure of the myths so get ready for that. I don’t have much more to say about this point I just feel a warning was necessary.  

I read “Circe” before “Song of Achilles” and I gotta say I think I liked “Circe” more. Maybe it was because it featured so many stories within her story that you got a greater perspective on mythology as a whole. I also really liked Circe as a character, I think she definitely has her flaws—like all Greek mythological characters do—but you can see how Miller sets her apart from other gods and goddesses. These are great standalone books, without the commitment of a series. If you’re looking for a more uplifting ending I would definitely recommend “Circe” over “The Song of Achilles.” Though I could argue that neither ending is terribly sad if you really think about it. I am definitely excited for Miller’s new piece she is working on about Hades and Persephone because that is my favorite myth, so stay tuned for that one!

Overall 10/10 for both books and highly highly highly recommend. I don’t think there has been a book I wouldn’t recommend yet in this book review column—this is mainly because I do not have the energy to review books I didn’t like.

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