Review: ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

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.

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.

Anyone who’s followed my reviews for a while will know this isn’t my normal sort of read. However, since I finished drafting the last book in the Isla’s Inheritance trilogy, I’ve turned my mind — between edits — to my next project, which I want to set in a fantasy version of Ancient Greece. So recently I’ve been reading a bit of historical non-fiction, and some hist fic.

I haven’t reviewed any of that here on the blog, but I loved The Song of Achilles so much I thought it was worth a mention. I actually listened to this as an audiobook that I downloaded as part of an Audible trial, and I’m not sure if the fabulous voice acting of David Thorpe influenced how much I love it. It may have done — I did wonder a couple of times whether I would’ve lost patience with the way the narrator, Patroclus, lingers lovingly over descriptions of Achilles if I was reading it. Listening to it was sometimes like listening to a poetry recital, it was so beautiful.

And beautiful is really the only way to describe this book, even though parts of it are “ugly” in the traditional sense. Miller doesn’t spare us any details of the bloody violence of war, just as she doesn’t spare any details of Achilles’ nimble feet or his golden hair.

If you’ve read the Illiad or studied Ancient Greek legends, you’ll know that the Trojan War didn’t end well for Achilles; the entire story of this novel arises from his best friend and lover Patroclus’s determination that he be remembered not just as a brutal killer but as a talented lyre player, as quick to laugh as he was haughty. (And he was haughty; Patroclus doesn’t have entirely rose-coloured glasses and definitely lets us see Achilles’ arrogance.) Nevertheless, by a third of the way through the story I was in love with Achilles, and by halfway through I loved Patroclus too.

There are sex scenes, but they are more romantic than explicit — it’s entangled limbs and hot kisses rather than…well, you know. (You do know, right?) Also, at the risk of stating the obvious, Patroclus and Achilles are both male, so if that sort of thing bothers you, this may not be your book.

On the other hand, if you want to read a beautiful and tragic story with an eternal romance and an uplifting ending, this may be the book for you. Song of Achilles earned every star!

Five stars

One Comment on “Review: ‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller”

  1. […] psychopath, far and away the worst of the Greeks. It particularly struck me given I just read The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller not long ago, which is a much kinder portrayal. It’s interesting to see […]

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