Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Published September 20th 2011 by Bloomsbury Publishing
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mythology, LGBT
Reading Level: Older Teen
ISBN 1408816032 (ISBN13: 9781408816035)
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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 companionship 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’s mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale 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.
I added The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller to my TBR pile when The Books Smugglers reviewed it earlier this year. I will freely admit that I wanted to read it mostly based on its LGBT theme and only slightly because I enjoy tales set in ancient history. I seek out LGBT books because I like reading about alternative forms of lifestyle, different forms of love, and diverse characters. It’s interesting to see how two characters in a romantic relationship of the same gender are depicted and how their relationship functions in contrast with a more mainstream romantic relationship with people of different genders. Even a romantic relationship between two girls is vastly different to a romantic relationship between two men. You have to remember that even if you are reading about a gay couple, they are still men and how that relationship functions needs to reflect that.
I studied the myth of Achilles a bit in college and I know a fair bit about him. The Song of Achilles deals with Achilles’ childhood through his death during the Trojan War. In that time, Patroclus sort of gets dragged along for the ride. Achilles is the son of a goddess but Patroclus is simply a mortal of no great reputation and yet he ends up doing astonishing things, mostly in the name of his love for Achilles. Amazing things happen to Patroclus and he does amazing things simply because these things are happening around him and there is no other choice but to deal with it. It’s a very human reaction, creating a character that could be anybody and a man who may be more of a hero than Achilles himself.
We examine what it means to be a hero or a coward. Is Achilles worthy of his praise as a warrior because he allowed thousands to die when he refused to fight? His beauty and fighting skill is given to him through his blood. He didn’t have to work for it. Is Patroclus’ compassion and the fact that he learned to be a healer and even risked his life to turn the tide in the war worth more than Achilles’ exploits? I think Achilles and Patroclus loved each other because they were all each other had, especially when they were young. Patroclus loved Achilles because he was beautiful, inside and out, and Achilles loved Patroclus because he knew the other boy’s love was pure. The Trojan War changed Achilles and he was no longer beautiful. He valued his pride and his promised glory more than Patroclus and Patroclus’ love could no longer withstand the changes in Achilles.
Sorry if I went all academic essay on you there. The Song of Achilles is a good book and will definitely appeal to readers of historical fiction and Greek history. Like most myths transformed into novels, it can be a bit slow in places. Novels often don’t have the luxury of skipping all the little boring bits and getting straight to the action the way a myth does. It can make the slog toward the Trojan War seem a bit much. This is a story about people, about love and personal worth. Don’t expect a war epic. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller ended up being less about Achilles and his myth than it was about the people trapped in the wheels of fate.
Rating 4 out 5