Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Published by: HarperCollins Publishers on March 6, 2012
Genres: Fantasy, Mythology, Romance
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Goodreads Synopsis: Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.
‘Name one hero who was happy.’
I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family; Theseus lost his bride and father; Jason’s children and new wife were murdered by his old; Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus’ back.
‘You can’t.’ He was sitting up now, leaning forward.
‘I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.’ He lifted an eyebrow. ‘I’ll tell you a secret.’
‘Tell me.’ I loved it when he was like this.
‘I’m going to be the first.’
Note: There are spoilers in this review if you have not read or are not familiar with The Iliad by Homer.
So, I haven’t actually read The Iliad or The Odyssey all the way through. I studied parts of The Odyssey and other ancient Greek mythology in an elective class in high school, but we didn’t read any more in AP English. Needless to say, I was pretty worried that I wouldn’t understand anything when I started to read this. I’m glad I pushed through, though, because this has turned out to be one of my new favorite books ever.
I expected fast-paced writing, epic battles, egotistical would-be heroes, and scheming deities, but that isn’t completely what I got. Most of The Song of Achilles is written in beautifully muted prose that actually highlights Patroclus’ passion for Achilles and Achilles’ eventual anguish over Patroclus death. The story is so swoon-worthy romantic that I might have found it too corny if it was written by a less skillful writer. Keep in mind that there are descriptive sex scenes in this novel, but they are very very well written.
For the most part, I definitely enjoyed Madeline Miller’s writing style. It even lead to ugly crying, re-reading, and then more ugly crying. However, this book starts out with Patroclus and Achilles as young boys, and I didn’t think it felt natural for a young boy to have such strong feelings for someone at that age. Patroclus sounded a lot older than he actually was, and it turned me off from the story for awhile. Luckily, he grows into his thoughts, and I came to really admire his character.
What I loved most about Patroclus is that in a story full of future heroes and deities, Patroclus is just an average joe.
I was not fast. I was not strong. I could not sing. The best that could be said of me was that I was not sickly.
The thing about average joe’s is that they are human with human emotions. Again, you can really see how much Patroclus cares for Achilles. He protects Achilles from all around them, forgives him for his wrong doings, and understands his want to be remembered as a hero. Even when Patroclus dies he continues to show his love for Achilles.
Achilles. I cannot bear to see you grieving…Give us both peace. Burn me and bury me. I will wait for you among the shades…
Patroclus also doesn’t have the pride that the other characters in the story have. He doesn’t feel the need to be remembered as a war hero, and instead of choosing an occupation that will help him achieve future glory, he chooses a path that will allow him to help others. I think Patroclus is an important character because he shows that you don’t have to be a hero and you don’t have to do the most amazing feats to be memorable.
I am also truly impressed with Miller’s portrayal of Achilles. You can tell that he cares for Patroclus, but other than that, Achilles starts off as a seemingly dry and underdeveloped character. You have to remember, he is a demigod living with a prophecy that states that he will become a hero but will die as a consequence looming over his head. That and his mother, the sea goddess Thetis, worries about the prophecy so she tries everything she can to make sure Achilles is memorable before he passes on. It is not until Patroclus’ death that Achilles shows his mortal side. His anguish was heartbreaking to read and, like I said, ugly tears were shed.
Though I absolutely adored this book and feel like I learned something now that I’ve read it, I knocked off a star because I felt that young Patroclus portayal wasn’t believable and he was young for a good chunk in the beginning. Other than that, I would still highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys fantasy, Greek mythology, and/or understated prose.
TW: sexual content, mentions of rape