Book Review

The Song Of Achilles

The Song of Achilles

  • Author: Madeline Miller
  • Genre: Historical Fiction/Mythology
  • Publication Date: March 6, 2012
  • Publisher: HarperAudio

CONTENT WARNING: death, murder, blood, mention of rape, mention of slavery, gore

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, “best of all the Greeks,” is everything Patroclus is not—strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess—and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative connection gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper—despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

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.

Much like with her other book, Circe, Madeline Miller has brought ancient Greek mythology to life in a vibrant and tangible way with this story. I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Frazer Douglas, and he embodied Patroclus perfectly for me. 

Rather than starting the story during the Trojan War, we get a full rendering of the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles, and how it slowly developed throughout their lifetimes from childhood on. This story is a completely unique take on an oversaturated story, and it gave me a brand new take on a character that I’ve never liked. In every story, Achilles is arrogant, vain, shallow, and one-dimensional. But this book gave him a new, more complex persona, and I loved seeing different sides of him. He wasn’t just a hero, but a well-rounded person with desires, hopes, dreams, and a heart. And all of this is described through the lens of Patroclus and his memories, rather than Achilles directly asserting himself in the story. I think this speaks even more forcefully to Miller’s skill as a writer in that she was able to make me love Achilles in this way.

The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus was a beautiful thing to see. The way that they were devoted to each other no matter what and didn’t hide their relationship even though it wasn’t exactly approved of between them, and how they brought out the best qualities in each other. 

Miller’s words and language are absolutely beautiful and incredibly evocative. I was able to viscerally experience the story through her writing — not just visualizing the scenes, but also practically smelling the scents, feeling the rocks under my feet and the wind in my hair, and hearing the screams on a battlefield. One of my favorite things is when a book can actually transport me to a setting with very little effort, and this story was able to accomplish that. If you’re a fan of mythology, this is definitely a book to read.

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