Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The legend begins…

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Built on the groundwork of the Iliad, Madeline Miller’s page-turning, profoundly moving, and blisteringly paced retelling of the epic Trojan War marks the launch of a dazzling career.

I liked pretty much everything about this book. Actually, I would go so far as to say I loved this book. Everything about it, from the beautiful storytelling to the blue and gold on the cover of my copy caught and held my attention.

You don’t have to be all that familiar with Greek mythology to know who Achilles is, or how his story ended. Patroclus, on the other hand, is not quite as well remembered. As this book begins, he is an exiled prince, sent away from home after the accidental death of another boy. In the kingdom of Phthia he finds himself drawn to Achilles, a boy who is set part from others in pretty much every way imaginable. The two boys unexpectedly form a deep bond.

I’ve read a few retellings of the battle of Troy, but I’m not sure if it was in those stories or somewhere else that the idea of Achilles and Patroclus being involved romantically was first suggested to me, or hinted at really, since nothing was every spelled out clearly. The Song of Achilles takes those hints and turns them into a fully fledged relationship. Goodbye subtext. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could not fall for young Achilles, the way he’s described here. The writing was a nice blend of elaborate and stark, always flowing together in a way I found very lyrical. There’s a good amount of time spent building up the relationship between the two main characters, which I liked. It’s not always action packed, but it sets the stage for what comes later.

And then there’s what comes later. It’s hard reading a book you really like when you know the outcome to begin with, and that it’s not going to be a happy one. There was one moment when I suddenly realized just how invested I had become in the lives of Patroclus and Achilles because I suddenly looked up from the book and said, “Oh nooooo!” But I kept reading because I just couldn’t stop and I wanted to know how this version would treat the battle of Troy and what it would do to these characters that I’d grown so fond of in the first half of the book. It’s heartbreaking, but the story never loses its beauty, even when terrible things happen. I guess I kind of love a good literary tragedy every now and then.

The Song of Achilles on Goodreads & Amazon

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