The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller was a book I didn’t know I needed until I heard about it.
This book was created for Greek mythology and Trojan War geeks like me. I’ve been curious about these topics since long before I ever understood what was going on in the stories. I was allowed to watch the 2004 film Troy at a rather young age, and I loved the story I saw in it. In fifth grade, Percy Jackson single-handedly made me obsessed with Greek mythology. I could (and still can) recite the names of the Greek gods with their Roman counterparts and full myths off the top of my head. Needless to say, everything is Greek to me. Despite all the other stories, however, the stories of the Trojan War remain to be my favorites of all the myths.
So when I heard about The Song of Achilles, I knew right away that it was a book for me. I began reading it the night I got my hands on it from our library at about 8:30.
I finished it the next morning, only putting it down once at 1:30 AM with much unhappiness.
Miller’s summary of the book is intriguing. It reads: “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.”
This book did not just meet my already high expectations, it far exceeded them, becoming my current favorite book. For a novel in which I already knew what was going to happen – Miller stayed close to the canon of The Iliad – I spent much of my reading time hoping beyond belief that what I knew would happen just wouldn’t. The main characters were dynamic and intriguing, though they did not stray far from their original personas in Homer’s story. The relationship between the main characters felt realistic and never once felt like a “perfect” relationship.
The prose of this novel is fantastic. Miller herself is a scholar of ancient Greek and Latin texts, and it shows in her writing. The book has a very poetic feel to it, like the old texts, but it never felt awkward or boring. Of course, I highly agree with Liza Nelson’s review that starts with “You don’t need to be familiar with Homer’s The Iliad (or Brad Pitt’s Troy, for that matter) to find Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles spellbinding.” All you need to fall in love with this book is to be a fan of an amazing story, have some time to read, and maybe have some time to cry.
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