What I've Been Reading, November 2020 Edition
Updated: Nov 4, 2020
Just because it's NaNoWriMo is no reason to stop reading. Recently, I've been neck-deep in fantasy and science fiction.
I plowed through this book after my wife read and loved it. I wasn't entirely sure what I was getting into, but I was intrigued just enough by the opening chapter combined with my wife's recommendation to keep reading. That wasn't a mistake.
At first glance, Circe is a retelling of Greek mythology from the perspective of the eponymous narrator, a lesser Titan or goddess. Most high school students will likely find many mythological characters familiar. Circe's take on these classical heroes and gods and goddesses is unique and often unflattering. This alone makes for a fascinating and entertaining read. It provides a viewpoint that opposes the Homeric worldview (at least, as my cobweb-ridden dustbin of a brain remembers it).
As for the story, in broad strokes, it is about Circe paving her own way in the world, finding her voice, and eventually discovering how to live her life on her terms. The highest praise I can give the book is that I am tempted to read Madeline Miller's other works, despite the fact Circe is outside my typical tastes in novels.
At first, I didn't think I would like this book. The world-building is immersive and, at times, jarring. But, if you get through the first couple of chapters, the world Martine creates is far more engrossing than grating.
The plot is relatively straightforward. Can the new ambassador her from a far-flung space station travel to a massive empire's central planet and discover who murdered her predecessor before she ends up dead? Overall, the storyline follows the same beats as many other tales of court intrigue. Honestly, this is okay. The alien world created by Martine adds plenty of layers of nuance to the story. If you want to study some genuinely stupendous world-building, this book is definitely worth a read.
I have mixed feelings about this book. First off, the first-person narrator is a little much at first. It took me about a quarter to the book to warm up to her. Then there are the monsters. The critters keep coming nonstop. Honestly, it's exhausting… as bad as a war zone.
Having said that, Novik does a few things that are worth studying by any budding writer. She handles exposition brilliantly. It's still a little info dump heavy but extremely well cloaked. This is accomplished by intertwining the info dumps with the very immediate dangers the narrator faces. Superbly done. One or two nice twists are pulled off near the climax adding a bit of spice to an otherwise predictable storyline. I will read the next novel in the series, but I hope the plot contains a few more surprises. Also worth noting, I don't believe the target audience (I'd say high schoolers) will have the same issues I did with the novel. If they like monsters, magic, and the narrator, they will eat this book up and be salivating for the next.