Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Release Date: March 6, 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Amazon Vine
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Patroclus is the son of a king in ancient Greece, but his father despises him because he thinks Patroclus is weak. After a tragic incident, Patroclus is stripped of his inheritance and exiled to Phthia, where King Peleus has agreed to raise the boy. Patroclus befriends Peleus’ son, Achilles, whose mother is a goddess. As Patroclus finally finds happiness, he knows it cannot last, for Achilles has a great destiny to lay claim to.
The Song of Achilles is a beautifully written, lyrical retelling of the story of The Iliad. This book goes beyond the story of that classic poem, though. It starts with Patroclus, the famed companion of Achilles, as a boy, overshadowed by everything around him. He’s a sympathetic character, but not a strong one. It isn’t until he finds his place with Achilles that Patroclus comes into his own. He finds the courage to be his own person, to live the life he chooses. It’s wonderful to watch his character grow and progress, especially as he’s juxtaposed against Achilles.
Most people are aware of the story of Achilles, so it’s interesting to see how Miller makes the story her own. She fleshes out Achilles’ childhood and intertwines Patroclus’ tale with the legend we’ve come to know. Miller’s descriptions are vivid and she creates amazing atmosphere from beginning to end. Readers know very well how the story will end, but Miller still keeps the reader hooked. It’s a retelling of the best sort: it stays true to the spirit of the original story, but helps the reader understand more about the characters and situations. Indeed, the familiar story of the Trojan War and the feud between Agamemnon and Achilles that starts The Iliad doesn’t come until at least two-thirds of the way through the book.
Rather than being friends or companions, The Song of Achilles portrays Achilles and Patroclus as lovers. This is actually a traditional interpretation; Miller doesn’t do anything new or radical with this relationship. The love story is incredibly well told. Readers can really feel the mutual love and respect between these two men. It also helps to explain and flesh out Achilles’ drastic actions and motivations during the Trojan War.
If you’re at all interested in historical fiction or ancient Greece, The Song of Achilles is a must-read. The Iliad is one of my favorite books of all time, so I was delighted with how well Miller retold the story. Miller tells the story in such a breathtakingly beautiful, literary way, but she doesn’t let her writing style get in the way of the story. It’s a gripping read from beginning to end, which is no small feat considering the story is incredibly well known. I’ll be waiting in breathless anticipation for Miller’s next book.