Book Review: Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee

Book Review: Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee

Carr “The Raptor” Luka is a young and rising star in the violent sport of “zeroboxing,” a zero gravity form of cage fighting popular on Earth, Luna, and Mars. Luka is everything a marketer could want. Blessed with good looks, character, personality, a rags-to-riches life story, incredible talent and a drive to succeed and put in the work to do it, the league sees in him their opportunity to grow the sport. Enter Risha, a Mars-born “brandhelm” charged with making Luka the face of zeroboxing. Herself young and ambitious, she is successful in promoting Luka. More than that, the two fall in love.


Fonda Lee’s debut novel, Zeroboxer, chronicles the rise of the biggest sports star Earth has had in a long time, fighter possibly good enough to go up against the fearsome Martians, those genetically enhanced descendants of humans who were bigger, stronger, and faster than their counterparts from the third planet.


But during his rise, Luka becomes aware of a criminal conspiracy, one that puts him in possession of a secret that could destroy him and his family. If he keeps that secret, it could destroy everything and everyone he loves. But if he reveals the secret, it almost certainly would do the same thing.


Sometimes in sports you discover that you cannot win. You can always, though, refuse to quit. In that way, sports becomes a compelling metaphor for life.


Fonda Lee creates amazing characters. Luka and Risha feel like real people. Their motivations and their actions make sense. Luka loves his mother, loves his coach, and loves Risha. Risha also loves Luka. Luka fears losing, whether that is in the ring or in his life. Sometimes that fear clouds his judgment. Even when his decisions are questionable, though, his core remains firm.


Some of Lee’s best writing comes in her fight scenes. I will confess to not being a big fan of sports like boxing, wrestling, martial arts, UFC, etc. Lee’s descriptions, though, of a sport that does not actually exist, made it sound like she was in the cage with the fighters. Sweat, blood, pain, the feelings of victory and defeat. If zeroboxing ever becomes a real sport, I suspect that its chroniclers will use this novel as a reference tool.


I am not sure why this book is classified as YA. I suppose it is because the protagonist is a teen. The themes of the book are mature, though, and Lee certainly doesn’t pull any punches in her descriptions of violence, sex, or other adult themes. I wouldn’t say it is inappropriate for teens, but I wonder whether some audiences might pass on it thinking it is for kids. It is actually a great book that certainly appealed to this middle-aged reader.


Fonda Lee is a gifted writer who is just beginning to make her mark. Zeroboxer, like her more recent book Jade City, features gifted writing and memorable characters. I look forward to whatever she chooses to write next.

Book Review: Zeroboxer, Fonda Lee

Book Review: Jade City, Fonda Lee

Book Review: Jade City, Fonda Lee

Fantasy: Jade City, Fonda Lee

Co-Winner, 2018 World Fantasy Award

Finalist for both the Nebula and Locus Awards


Jade City is what foreigners call Jonloon. It’s an apt name. Dominated by clans of Green Bones, the city is the center of trade in biogenetic jade, a mineral which allows some people to have extraordinary powers–and gives others a terrible addiction that leads to a painful death.


The Mountain and the No Peak clans are the two dominant clans in Jonloon. For many years there has been an uneasy truce between the clans, sharing the city and the jade mining and trade. That truce is coming to an end and open warfare is impacting the entire city. And no family is more affected by this change than the Kaul family, leaders of the No Peak clan.


Fonda Lee has written a masterpiece in Jade City. She has built an extraordinary world, a world which has both Asian and western resonance but which also stands on its own as a unique creation. Over the course of almost 500 pages she paints a city with a political dynamic that intentionally reminds readers of the mafia, an economy that is dependent on a single natural resource, a culture that is unique to itself (albeit with undeniable Asian influence), a religion that supports and defends the power of jade, and a family that is fiercely loyal to each other and to their clan.


The Kaul family is a dynasty. Their grandfather created the No Peak clan and led it to victory in war decades earlier. Grandson and eldest brother Lan now leads the clan, supported by his military leader and brother Hilo. Sister Shae wanted to chart a different course for her life, so she left her jade behind and moved to another country. She is now back, but is still trying to live her life away from the demands of being a Kaul. And cousin Anden is just finishing his education, trying to determine what the course of his life will be.


Jade City is a long book, but it needs every page. Lee allows the work to breathe and to build, introducing each character fully, developing them deeply, allowing them to take their place in turn at the center of the narrative. Lan is wise and cautious, but is forced to make a decision with consequences that change the entire direction of the book and his family. Hilo is brash and violent, but capable of passionate love for others and utterly loyal to those he loves. Shae thinks she can escape her family, but when they need her she rushes to them and embraces her role wholeheartedly. These siblings love deeply, fight bitterly, and display emotions that are consistent and true to their characters. I hated to see the final page turn to the acknowledgments.


Central to the book is the idea of jade. Jade is not just a precious gem. It has certain properties that change people. When they wear or touch jade, both physical and psychic powers are unlocked. They can increase their speed, strength, and stamina. They can sense emotions, deflect moving objects (and move stationary objects), and even stop the hearts of unwary opponents. For those lucky enough to be born with the ability to handle jade, this power allows them to dominate in society. Others have a sensitivity to it that gives them some of the power, but in more of an addictive fashion. These unfortunates will, when exposed to jade, experience power. They will also be consumed with lust for that power and, in time, the jade will poison their bodies and they will die a horrible death. A rare few are completely immune to jade. “Stone eyes” can touch jade without experiencing either the positive or negative consequences felt by others. And, recently, a drug called “shine” has developed which gives people some of the power of jade without actually having the gem. This new drug has destabilized the balance of power between the clans, and the delicate truce between them is devolving into open warfare.


Jade City is a beautifully written, powerful book that is worth the investment to read and appreciate. I am very excited about the sequel, expected in May 2019. There are still many challenges awaiting the Kaul family and the No Peak clan, and I am eager to see how they handle them.

Book Review: Jade City, Fonda Lee

Book Review: Ball Lightning, Liu Cixin

Book Review: Ball Lightning, Liu Cixin (translated by Joel Martinsen)

Science Fiction: Ball Lightning, Liu Cixin (translated by Joel Martinsen)

The day Chen turned fourteen his life changed forever. As his family celebrated, a storm struck the family’s house. A ball of lightning came in, destroying his t-shirt but leaving him uninjured and his other clothes intact. Food in the freezer was cooked and hot, but the freezer itself was unaffected. Tragically, his parents were turned to ash in front of his eyes. This horrific event set the course for the rest of Chen’s life: he became obsessed with studying ball lightning.


His study of ball lightning guided his studies at the university and led him after graduation to working with a beautiful female army major, whose own obsession with weapons research shaped the direction of their work. A theoretical physicist with no moral boundaries became the third member of their team. Together they discovered how to find and use ball lightning. Together they also realized that science without boundaries can have terrible and unintended results.


Ball Lightning was originally published in Chinese in 2005, but the English translation only came out in the fall of 2018. Author Liu Cixin (family name listed first here in the Chinese manner) is riding a wave of international attention after becoming the first writer from Asian to win the Hugo Award. His Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy garnered him that Hugo win and a Nebula nomination for the first of the series, The Three-Body Problem, and a Locus Award for the trilogy’s conclusion, Death’s End. (Both of those were translated by science fiction writer Ken Liu–no relation to the author.) Liu has also won the Galaxy Award, the top Chinese science fiction award, for best writer an amazing eight times! I suspect we will see more of Liu’s back catalog get translated into English and other languages as his fame spreads.


Chen is the ethical center of the trio studying ball lightning. Often conflicted about the work they are doing, largely because of his own tragic experience with the phenomenon, he leaves the project more than once but gets pulled back through his own loyalty to his friends and his country and through his own obsession with the object that changed his life. Chen ultimately discovers that ball lightning is not something that needs to be created. Rather, it is something that exists naturally but is typically harmless. When it is excited electrically, though, it has potentially devastating consequences.


When Chen does finally leave the project, he goes into research that has nothing to do with weapons or war. His work on tornadoes receives international attention: he is honored as an honorary citizen of Oklahoma City because of his work that allows precise prediction of tornadoes. But when war breaks out between the US and China, he comes to realize that even the best of research can have unexpected implications. And when his former colleagues take the ball lightning research to the next level, the results could be catastrophic for the entire planet.


Liu’s combination of hard science fiction and ethical quandaries makes for a fascinating exploration of human nature and the nature of wartime ethics. Just as Chen is shaped by the deaths of his parents, his colleague Lun Yun is shaped by the death of her mother from a novel wartime weapon in a previous conflict. She is not without ethics, but her desire is to make sure no other Chinese girls lose their mothers the way she lost hers. If that means creating an ultimate weapon, she is OK with that so long as it is deployed by China and not by their enemies.


It’s perhaps either a cliche or a truism (or both) that there are no good or evil tools. A scalpel can be a lifesaver in the hands of a surgeon or a life-ender in the hands of a murderer. When those tools are in the hands of scientists and soldiers, the implications may extend beyond individual lives and affect the lives of millions.


I suppose the same could be said for writers and words. When the writer is as gifted as Liu Cixin and the result is a novel as profound as Ball Lightning, the effect on the reader is likely to be profound.

Book Review:  Ball Lightning, Liu Cixin (translated by Joel Martinsen)

Blog Tour Book Review: Green Gold, Gabriel Hemery

Book Review: Green Gold, Gabriel Hemery

Green Gold: The Epic True Story of Victorian Plant Hunter John Jeffrey

Fiction: Green Gold, Gabriel Hemery

Green Gold is a creative epistolary novel telling the story of plant hunter John Jeffrey’s expedition to North America in 1850 through the words of his journal, letters, and other documents. Representing an elite group of subscribers, Jeffrey’s mission was to collect seeds from North America which could be planted on estates in England and Scotland. Starting off with great promise, early letters and journal entries told of his remarkable journey across the north Atlantic and then across Canada, and a package did arrive with a small number of viable seeds and other natural items he collected for his sponsors. But before the end of his planned journey, Jeffrey disappeared. Did he abandon his quest in favor of gold or love or some other attraction in the new world? Or did he meet with foul play? His sponsors never learned, and, well, you’ll have to read the novel to find out for yourself!


Author Hemery has subtitled the book, “The Epic True Story of Plant Hunter John Jeffrey,” although it is based on a journal that does not exist and is compiled by a researcher who is herself a character with emails and notes detailing her work. Still, the research that went into this novel is impressive. Not only is it replete with scientific names, descriptions of plants and their locations and appearance in the wild (and how that varies with elevation and latitude), it has detailed descriptions of actual 1850s towns in Canada and the U.S., and is consistently written in the style of prose used in the Victorian Era. Much of the book reads like a Dickens or Austen novel, even though it was just published. John Jeffrey was an actual plant hunter, sent out in 1850 by the Oregon Botanical Society (an English/Scottish group) who disappeared at some point during the trip. So although this is a work of fiction, there are a lot of facts woven into the story.


I am grateful to the author and publisher and to Anne Cater for an ARC of this book in exchange for my review, and I am happy to be part of the blog tour promoting this book. Check out the other reviews of the book, and obviously read the book yourself!


Green Gold is not going to appeal to everyone. Epistolary novels can be challenging reads, and one done consistently in a nineteenth century voice is going to be even more of a challenge for many readers. The historical and scientific detail will appeal to some readers–and will not appeal to others. That said, Hemery clearly put a lot of work into this book and the labor of love shows in its attention to detail, its consistency of voice, and its creative use of the information. Many readers will appreciate that effort and I can see this becoming a favorite book for the right person.

Green Gold: The Epic True Story of Victorian Plant Hunter John Jeffrey

Book Review: Green Gold, Gabriel Hemery

Book Review: The Bayern Agenda, Dan Moren

Book Review: The Bayern Agenda, Dan Moren

Science Fiction: The Bayern Agenda, Dan Moren

Some books are just fun. The Bayern Agenda is a fun book. It’s a space opera. It’s a spy thriller. It’s a book with engaging, smart mouthed, characters who find themselves in challenging situations which require them to find new trust in themselves and each other. Dan Moren continues with characters we first met in The Caledonian Gambit in telling the story of the Galactic Cold War (though curiously enough, this book is labelled as “Book One” of the Galactic Cold War series despite taking place only months after the events of The Caledonian Gambit).


Simon Kovalic is a spy. Originally a soldier from Earth, he fled to the Commonwealth of Independent Systems after Earth fell to the Illyrican Empire. Now leading an elite team of covert operatives, Kovalic learns of a top secret meeting between officials from the Empire and the top bankers in the galaxy, one that could tip the balance of the cold war. Unfortunately, Kovalic is injured during the mission, so his team must proceed without him to confirm the purpose of the meeting and, if necessary, disrupt it.


When additional information comes in to Kovalic’s boss, and when it becomes apparent that there is at least one leak within their organization, Kovalic must follow his team to Bayern despite his injury and warn them about the new threats. The challenges increase by the page and the response to those challenges requires each team member to use all of their skills in order to survive. And like a good spy thriller will, Bayern saves its final twists until the very end.


Although this would not be considered a young adult book, The Bayern Agenda would be an easy and fun read for tweens and teens who enjoy science fiction and spy novels. Its fast pace and smart tone is appealing to all ages. Moren has delivered a clever novel with great characters who interact through an exciting story. In addition to the main thrust of the story, several “interludes” are included which give some back story for Kovalic, Tapper, and the Galactic Cold War, giving context to the events which take place during the novel.


The Bayern Agenda would make a great beach or airplane read. It is fast paced, the right length, complex enough to be interesting but straightforward and easy to read. A nice cross-over spy/sci-fi novel, hopefully introducing a series with a long run ahead of it.

Book Review: The Bayern Agenda, Dan Moren

Book Review: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Book Review: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Fantasy: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Imogen and Marin are sisters. Both are also artists with some regard in their fields: Imogen as an author, Marin as a dancer. The Melete artists’ retreat is recruiting talent to come and spend most of a year in residence, working on their art with the help of a world-class mentor and the separation from the busyness of the world. What Melete doesn’t tell you up front is that it is run by the Fae, and there is an opportunity at the end of the residency, an opportunity to have all your dreams come true.


What price would you pay to make all your dreams come true? Would you give up seven years of your life?


Would you betray your sister?


Would you die?


Roses and Rot is a different kind of fairy tale, one which examines the price paid for getting your wishes fulfilled. These prices are different from person to person, and it is not always the person getting their dreams fulfilled who has to pay that price. Could a child recover if she were born in Fae country then had to leave? What cost do the Fae extract for their largesse? Is an artist solely judged by her art, or is she more than just an artist? And throughout the book, though not directly tied to the fairy tale, what role does a mother’s love or lack thereof play in a person’s life?


In this book, when a Fae makes flowers appear, two smells come with the flowers: roses and rot. Without delving into spoilers, the book makes the point again and again: blessings from the Fae come with beauty and wealth and magic, but they come at a high cost as well. Not everyone wants to pay that cost. Not everyone is able to pay that cost. And some people are desperate to pay the cost and receive the blessing, even if the Fae are unwilling to accept the bargain. That itself is a price for the Fae’s “gift,” but one paid by others.


Kat Howard is, in the words of Neal Gaiman, “a remarkable young writer.” Roses and Rot is her first novel, published in 2016. (We reviewed her second novel, An Unkindness of Magicians, last year.) I most certainly do not disagree with Neal Gaiman, nor do I think I could word praise any better than he does. Roses and Rot is a marvelous novel, particularly as a debut, and Kat Howard is indeed “a remarkable young writer.”

Book Review: Roses and Rot, Kat Howard

Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Fantasy: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Winner of the Nebula Award

Finalist for Hugo Award

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY NPR | BuzzFeed | | BookPage | Library Journal | Publishers Weekly


“Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes…” begins Naomi Novik’s reimagining of an old fairy tale. Their Dragon is the lord of the valley, who collects tribute annually in the form of goods and gold. He is a wizard, who repays his people by keeping the Woods at bay and protecting them against other harmful magic. Once every ten years, though, he collects tribute of a different sort. A seventeen-year-old girl comes to live with him. She stays in his tower for ten years, then is returned to her parents. She never stays, though, not for longer than a few weeks. She goes, usually to the city, where she may marry or pursue a career, but never returns to the valley.


The girls say he never touches them. Never harms them. Never uses them for anything other than basic cooking. Still, few people if any ever move away from the valley. They feel a rootedness, a connection to the land and to their homes. This makes these girls stand out. None of them stay. Not a single one.


Kasia has always been the one who would be selected. She is pretty, talented, a good cook and seamstress. She is smart and witty and of the exact age to be chosen. Her best friend, Agnieszka, will be sorry to see her go. But Agnieszka is clumsy and average looking and has no obvious talents. Everyone knows that the magician always takes either the prettiest or the most talented girl, and Kasia is both of those things.


Until Agnieszka is chosen.


The reasons for choosing Agnieszka become clear as the story progresses, and her story moves from the tower to the capital city then back to the valley again. The Dragon and Agnieszka must work together to fight the growing evil of the Woods, an ancient evil that is seeking more power and more land and threatens the home that Agnieszka loves so dearly.


Novik is a remarkable story teller, and I finished her book (435 pages) in a single Saturday marathon read. Agnieszka is a bold and fierce heroine, smart and determined and loyal. She knows her own mind and is willing to claim what she wants. The story is rich and nuanced and stirring, filled with magic and action and romance and everything a fantasy should have. It even has a prince in it, though he is anything but charming!


One thing I love is the way Agnieszka changes those around her. Enemies become friends, or at least stop being enemies, when she is able to impact them. The Dragon’s feelings for the Valley, the people, and Agnieszka herself evolve through the story. Several others change sides because of the pure mindedness of Agnieszka. She may not think much of herself, but she has a way of changing hearts and minds that has much less to do with magic and much more to do with her character.


Uprooted is a special novel, and Naomi Novik is a gifted writer.

Book Review: Uprooted, Naomi Novik

Book Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire

Book 2 in the Wayward Children series

Down Among the Sticks and Bones cover

Fiction: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire

Book 2 in the Wayward Children series


Normally I avoid reading a series out of sequence, although I seem to be doing that with frustrating regularity in recent months. Regardless, I have done it here once again, but because Seanan McGuire is a merciful author who takes pity on the fans who adore her, she has written Down Among the Sticks and Bones in her Wayward Children series as a book that stands well on its own and does not require having read the first book for it to make sense.


Twins Jacqueline and Jillian were raised to be the ideal daughters of a truly vapid couple. Jacqueline was her mother’s ideal little girl. She wore dresses, she never got dirty, and she always behaved herself. Jillian was the son her father did not have. She wore jeans, played soccer, and presented herself as a tomboy. The fact that neither of their daughters actually felt at home in her role never occurred to their parents. They wanted two perfect children, and that is what they demanded.


This disconnect between who they had to be and who they actually were made them quite unhappy, and this unhappiness opened a doorway into a different world. One stormy day the girls decide to wander into their grandmother’s room. Their grandmother had lived with them when they were preschoolers, but since she did not correspond to their parents’ ideal version of a grandmother/nanny, she had been banished from the home. The girls entered the room as twelve-year-olds planning a day of dress up and play. What they found was a doorway to another place, one with monsters and myths at every turn, and there they spent the next several years.


How they grew up there, how their decisions as to who they were shaped who they became, and how they eventually returned home, I will leave to the reader to discover. McGuire does a masterful job of revealing how each girl’s choices affect her, and her sister, and others in this new world. Not many authors can walk the line between humor and horror the way McGuire does. Even in the opening chapters when we meet the parents, page after page causes alternate wincing and chuckling. The title of the opening chapter promises this very reaction: “The Dangerous Allure of Other People’s Children.” Those of us who are parents recognize this fact. The ideas we had about parenting were shaped by our exposure to other people’s children, be they our own siblings or cousins or friends when we were children, or the children of our family members and friends when we grew up. The arrival of our own children very quickly teaches most of us an astounding fact: we knew nothing!


McGuire captures that reality–completely unknown to most non-parents who feel quite competent giving advice to parents on childrearing–beautifully in her opening chapter:


“This, you see, is the true danger of children: they are ambushes, each and every one of them. A person may look at someone else’s child and see only the surface, the shiny shoes or the perfect curls. They do not see the tears and the tantrums, the late nights, the sleepless hours, the worry. They do not even see the love, not really….

It can be easy, in the end, to forget that children are people, and that people will do what people will do, the consequences be damned.”


Jacqueline and Jillian–Jack and Jill as they are known in the other world–start life being molded into their parents’ ideal children. Breaking into a new world lets them break out of that mold. Since they had no model for a different life, though, the choices they make have unintended consequences that they are not prepared to face. And when they return to the world that gave them birth, they are not recognizably the same girls.


Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second book of the series. Ideally, start with Every Heart a Doorway. Beneath the Sugar Sky came out in January, 2018, and In An Absent Dream will arrive in January, 2019. If the other books are as good as this one…well, what am I saying. This is Seanan McGuire, winner of Hugo and Locus and multiple other awards, writer of October Daye and Incryptid series and Spider-Gwen comics and (under the pen name of Mira Grant) the Newsflesh series. She is amazing; she rewards all of her readers with humor and insight and fun and fear all rolled together. The other books will be good. Read them, read this one, and cringe-laugh-cry your way through some amazing stories.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones cover

Book Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Seanan McGuire

Book 2 in the Wayward Children series

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway, Book One in the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire

Fantasy: Every Heart a Doorway, Book One in the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire

Winner: 2017 Hugo Award

Winner: 2017 Alex Award

Winner: 2017 Locus Award

Winner: 2016 Nebula Award

Nominated: 2017 World Fantasy Award


Nancy is new to Eleanor West’s school. Her parents heard this was the perfect place, maybe the only place, that could help her. Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children took children like Nancy, helped children like Nancy, children who had disappeared from this world then reappeared with strange, unbelievable stories of other worlds, of places they went to where they felt at home and were understood and belonged. Ms. West listened to the concerns of these parents and grandparents and loved ones and assured them. We’ve had great success with such children, she said. We know you want your happy and well-adjusted child back to normal, she told them. We can help, she said.


It was all a lie. But parents and grandparents and loved ones needed to hear the lie, believe the lie, believe that their child who returned in the flesh would one day return to her or his “right” mind. So they dropped off their Kades or their Jills or their Christophers or their Nancys and drove home, looking forward to the day when their child would forget all that nonsense and truly come home.


Ms. West, though, knew the truth. The children she kept were not delusional. They had traveled to other worlds. They had found home, their true home, and then somehow were wrenched from that true home for their hearts and returned to a world where they did not, could not, never would fit in. The only help she could give them was to help them come to terms with their situation. Perhaps they could go back to those other worlds someday. Most couldn’t. Until they could, or until they were ready to deal with this world, they had a home with Ms. West. Their parents could not, would not, understand or accept the truth. Few ever would, or could. But Ms. West could and did. For she had also traveled, she also knew there was a world that fit her perfectly, and until she could return to that world permanently she would do everything she could to provide at least one safe, true place for other travelers to stay.


Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway has won an amazing number of awards, probably because it recognizes the longing in so many hearts for a place to belong. The old Christian song, “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passin’ through,” expresses an ache felt by many hearts in and out of churches. There has got to be more, there has got to be a place. Somewhere, someone understands ME, knows exactly who I am, sees me, the real me. In a world full of differences, full of people who march to their own tunes, we still live lives of “quiet desperation,” alone and aware that we are alone. We meet and mingle and mate and still fail to truly connect with others. And we hope, though hope dims a bit each year, that somewhere we will stumble through a door into a world where we actually fit in.


Soon after Nancy arrives, her roommate is found dead, hands removed at the wrist. More murders ensue, each grisly and each with very specific body parts removed. Some of the removals were done post mortem, but others were done while the victim was still alive, adding to the horror of the act. And as the bodies mount, so do the questions. Who? Why? Who would be next? And not incidentally, how could this place of haven survive becoming a serial killer’s hunting ground?


Every Heart a Doorway is not a long book, but it is deep. For anyone who sometimes (or usually) feels lost in this world, this is a book that says, “You are not alone.” That may be the most powerful gift any book can give.

Book Review: Every Heart a Doorway, Book One in the Wayward Children series, Seanan McGuire

Book Review: Circe, Madeline Miller

Book Review: Circe, Madeline Miller

Book Review: Circe, Madeline Miller

Circe is an old story, but this new (2018) book repackages the tale for a modern audience in a creative and vivid way. Madeline Miller has worked magic with this story of an ancient witch. No longer a sidebar to the story of Odysseus, Circe here is a fully realized character who, despite living much of her life at the whim and mercy of greater gods, refuses to be the victim of anyone else’s machinations or to be the forgotten tangent to anyone else’s odyssey.


Circe is the daughter of a titan and a nymph. In this version, she is lightly regarded. Not pretty enough to be a true nymph, not powerful enough to be a true goddess, she lives on the fringes of her father’s palace until she discovers she has a talent for transformation. She is able to use plants to transform things–a mortal into a god, a nymph into a monster. Thrilled with her power but unwise in the ways of gods and titans, she demands her power be recognized. It is. Zeus himself takes notice of it, and orders her banished to an island where she must remain forever.


She works hard there to master her abilities, and despite her exile she encounters many of the more well-known figures of Greek mythology. Hermes becomes her lover. She meets the Minotaur. Daedelus and Icarus. Jason and Medea. And, of course, Odysseus.


Odysseus is charming, wily, mercurial, and sometimes cruel in this book. Circe falls in love with him, so much so that she allows herself to become pregnant with his child, but does not lose her head. She remains in control of herself and her island. This Odysseus physically returns from the Trojan War, but mentally and emotionally he never recovers from the brutalities of war or the voyage home. He survives every challenge, but most of those challenges were avoidable if he were a wiser or humbler man. Circe recognizes his faults, and lets him go on his way.


Madeline Miller has taught Greek and Latin for many years and her love for the source material is clear throughout Circe. That love, though, does not keep her from giving this goddess a fresh voice and strong personality. I love the awareness of the character. She is a witch. She is a goddess. She has lived thousands of years. A sailor with PTSD is not going to trick her or seduce her into doing anything she does not want to do!


Circe was named among the “Best Books of 2018” by many reviewers and media outlets. It is an ageless story about an immortal goddess, yet it is fresh and new and exciting. I loved it.

Book Review: Circe, Madeline Miller