Author: Madeline Miller
Publication Date: September 20, 2011
Length: 378 pages
Read Date(s): June 12, 2021 – June 14, 2021
Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath.
They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes 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, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.
This book has been on my TBR for quite a while. I love Greek and Roman history and mythology, as well as queer stories. So, I was excited to see a re-telling of Homer’s Iliad focused on the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. And I have to say, it really didn’t disappoint. It left me with a massive book hangover, and I was surprised by how much emotion I felt while reading despite already knowing how the story was going to play out. The writing was simple but elegant and kept me engaged throughout the book.
The first half of the story was largely a romance. It provided a great deal of background to the story seen originally in the Iliad, which becomes much more prominent in the remainder of the book. I enjoyed seeing the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles bloom and progress from a deep friendship into something more. However, I didn’t really buy that the characters were children. They seemed much older to me in how they interacted, but it didn’t really change my enjoyment of the story overall. I loved the second half of this story and it’s version of the Trojan war. The pace in this part of the story was much quicker, and it really delivered so many gripping emotional payoffs that were set up beautifully by the depth of the relationship-building in the first half of the book.
The characters were good, and I found Patroclus to be an interesting choice for the narrator of the story. He brought a human voice and grounded the narrative in the ordinary when so many of the characters are literal gods and demigods. That being said, he did get tedious to read at times as he spent a great deal of time pining over Achilles. I enjoyed seeing Achilles through the eyes of Patroclus, though, because it really highlighted not only his beauty and the extra-ordinariness of his feats but also the tender and flawed aspects of him, as well. I loved that message of this book, actually, which was illustrated perfectly by one of the last scenes in the novel: it is not just extraordinary endeavors that make someone worth remembering but also the small, seemingly inconsequential things they do that make up who they are.
In addition to being a beautiful romance story, this book also tackled several deeper philosophical discussions. First, it made me think about the absolute nature of fate and whether free will actually exists. Achilles and Patroclus were trying so hard to fight fate, but ultimately ended up playing right into it. Second, the ethics of war was discussed here in a thought-provoking way. Finally, the role of pride in destroying the lives of both men was evident throughout the book, but especially in the end. I kept wanting to scream at the characters, especially Achilles, to put aside ego before it ruined everything, but ultimately I knew how it would end. It was a tragedy after all.
The ending of the book was absolutely brilliant. I was curious from the beginning about how the author would wrap up the story since Patroclus was the only POV. The choice she made was poignant and beautiful, and the final chapters brought me to tears multiple times.
Overall, this is a great rendition of the story of Achilles and Patroclus. I loved the relationship-building, humanity of the characters, and themes discussed in the book. When a story has the ability to move me the way this one did despite my pre-existing knowledge of the story and its ending, I know it deserves a rating of 5 out of 5 stars. I’ll definitely be re-reading it again in the future.
Have you read The Song of Achilles? What did you think?