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Staff Pick: The Song of Achilles and Circe

Madeline Miller's books, based on Homer's epics The Iliad and The Odyssey, were brought to my attention by a Facebook group dedicated to books and reading. I kept seeing them posted and praised and I finally had to see what all the buzz was about. Well, dear reader, the group was right. These books are SO GOOD.

I started with The Song of Achilles because The Iliad comes before The Odyssey, and I'm kind of a nerd like that. You may be familiar with the story of Achilles, but here it is told from a new perspective - that of Patroclus, Achilles's closest companion. Patroclus is born a prince, but when he accidentally kills a nobleman's son, he is exiled to the court of Peleus, king of the Myrmidons and father of Achilles. Patroclus is a skinny, weak child next to the half-god Achilles, but an unlikely friendship blossoms between the two. As they grow up together, their friendship grows into something more, much to the displeasure of Achilles's mother, the malicious sea goddess Thetis. Their idyllic existence is interrupted by the outbreak of the Trojan War, and they're faced with a terrible prophecy. 

Circe is narrated by the title character, the goddess sorceress herself. Daughter of the sun god Helios, raised among the Titans, Circe notices from an early age that she is different from her kin. She does not sound like them - they frequently deride her for her thin, weak voice, which turns out to be simply a mortal voice. She also does not share their disdain for mortals; she is instead fascinated by them. Her love for one leads to her discovery of her powers in witchcraft, and thence to her exile after admitting that she purposely transformed her romantic rival Scylla into a terrible sea monster. Zeus, afraid of the powers of Circe and her siblings, makes an example of her and sentences her to an eternity in exile on the isle of Aeaea. As the centuries pass, she continues to practice her witchcraft, becoming more and more powerful. Men sometimes stop on her isle to seek refuge, but those that seek to harm or rob her are turned into pigs. Thus into her life steps Odysseus. 

These books defy characterization; the author beautifully combines historical fiction, romance, adventure, and fantasy. The voices of Patroclus and Circe are so compelling; they are flawed characters and therefore relatable. I laughed with them, and cried with them, and didn't want the books to end. So go forth, and seek thee some Madeline Miller!

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