Circe by Madeline Miller
In her follow-up to her 2012 novel The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller revisits the world of Greek myths, this time with the witch-goddess Circe. Circe, the daughter of Helios, a Titan, and a water nymph, never feels at home in her father’s halls. She is mocked for her strange voice and lacks the beauty and power of her parents and siblings. Instead, she finds herself drawn to mortals and prefers them to the vain and petty gods around her. When her latent powers are made known, she is considered a threat by Zeus and is exiled to the island Aiaia. On the island, she begins to practice pharmakeia, witchcraft using herbs and other elements to create powerful spells. She is particularly adept at transfiguration.
Circe briefly leaves Aiaia when she is summoned to Crete by her sister, Pasiphae. While at Knossos, she meets her niece, Ariadne, the inventor Daedalus, and has a memorable encounter with the Minotaur. After returning to exile, Circe is more keenly aware of her loneliness than before and throws herself into working her magic. Despite her isolation, Circe does have the odd visitor. Sometime lover Hermes comes to tell tales of the outside world. Circe’s other niece, the witch Medea, seeks her out after fleeing her kingdom with Jason. Ships of men also find their way to her island and, at first, she welcomes their company. After a sailor’s brutal betrayal, Circe transforms him and his crew into pigs. Thereafter, most men who find her island meet the same fate. One day, as foretold by prophecy, Odysseus makes his way to Circe’s shores. If you know your mythology, you already know how the story plays out. However, in Miller’s hands, the story feels fresh and utterly compelling.
Circe is a complex and sympathetic heroine. Her struggles to find her voice and wield her power are both ancient and completely of the moment. Circe may be about a goddess, but it has a lot to say about being not only a woman, but a woman with power. A particularly potent theme throughout Circe’s story is how men fear powerful women and attempt to suppress them. Miller’s vivid, evocative writing brings the Greek gods and monsters to life in a unique and fantastic way. Readers who enjoy stories about women’s lives, and those who read literary, historical, and fantasy fiction will all find something worthwhile here.
Hunted by Kevin Hearne
I’m a series reader and over the years I’ve dropped more series than I’ve kept up with. They become too repetitive, or the characters simply never change and keep making bad decisions and never seem to learn, or sometimes the world conspires against the main character who is miserable but fighting on, or every book is a new villain that has to be different but somehow is just like all the ones before it.
I thought the Iron Druid Chronicles was headed that way. It was Atticus–the main character who’s a 2,000 year old Druid and the last of his kind–who wasn’t changing. He adapts to fit in with the culture he’s in but he’d done it too well and sounded like a kid who spent all his time on the internet and thought LOLcats was the height of human achievement. Internet references worked to show how Atticus keeps up with the times but eventually they distracted me from the story and had me hoping some thunder god would zap Atticus into silence for a while. But while he was making annoying jokes, Atticus was also angering various gods and now he’s dealing with the consequences so he’s let up on the dorky jokes. Some of the gods are so sick of him that they cut him off from routes that would let him travel between planes and around the Earth and they started hunting him. In the last book, he had to find a way to bind his apprentice Granuaile to the Earth to complete her training to become a Druid. Now she’s fully bound and they’re on the run.
Previous events triggered the beginning of Ragnarok and removed some of the safeguards that would have prevented it. As a Druid–a protector of the Earth–Atticus has to take action. Part of that is convincing gods from outside the Norse pantheon that Ragnarok is bad for them, too, and they should stop messing with a lowly Druid and work together to save the Earth. He has some successes and for once doesn’t seem to have done lasting harm. After Hunted, I’m back to looking forward to the next book and seeing how well Atticus deals with being known to so many powerful figures and what his role in the world will become.
The Iron Druid Series by Kevin Hearne
A series about the last living Druid who has spent most of his 2,000 years avoiding an angered god by moving constantly and leaving behind everyone he cares about other than a goddess of death may sound dark and gritty. But when the Druid is Atticus O’Sullivan, you’re in for a lot of action, laughs, and tugging of heart-strings. Hounded introduces Atticus and his current life in Tempe, Arizona. He owns a rare book store where he also serves up specialty tea blends to his customers. They don’t know that there’s a bit of magic that makes his Mobili-tea really help with their aches and pains and they certainly don’t know that Immortali-tea has kept him looking like a man in his early 20s for 2,000 years. He’s also been giving the tea to his Irish wolfhound Oberon who he shares a telepathic bond with thanks to Druid bindings. Oberon is a riot and he helps Atticus stay upbeat as well as stay alive in fights. Atticus has learned to treasure life’s small pleasures and he truly cares for the people close to him while he can be with them. He mows the lawn of the widow MacDonagh and looks after her like a dedicated son and her spirit and acceptance when she finds out he’s not just a kind young man help keep him going.
Atticus’ troubles stem from a long-ago conflict with the Celtic god of love, Aenghus Og. He moves around to avoid the god and to keep his friends from being caught in the crossfire. Atticus would rather avoid a fight and until the events in Hounded he’s mostly been able to do that. In his travels, he’s learned more about Druidic magic and is able to bind cold iron—which repels most magic—to his aura and has crafted a number of charms to help him out of tight spots. But eventually his connections to allies and friends lead him down a road to a confrontation with Aenghus Og as well as witches, werewolves, and Norse gods. The Iron Druid has to deal with no longer being unknown, the eventuality of leaving a town (and his friends and store) that he loves, and the possibility of taking on an apprentice and doubling the number of Druids in the world.
The series started out as three books released in three months and has happily been picked up for at least another three. I really enjoyed how Kevin Hearne brought so many mythologies into modern times. Atticus doesn’t often come off as an old man, but more frequently as the 20something he looks like. As the series goes on, Atticus stops being so flippant and we start to see him acknowledge what he’s lost over the years and how he has to cope to move on. Those dark times are needed to show he isn’t totally shallow but they’re thankfully rare. It leaves more time for action, silliness, and for supporting characters to shine.
If you’re a fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, or urban fantasy at all, you’ll want to give the Iron Druid series a try.