The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is a beautiful retelling that struggles with ideas of identity, destiny, relationships, and integrity. It was a heartbreaking tapestry of heroism and bravery, from military prowess to human morality. I absolutely adored this read and happily gave it five stars!
Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
For me, the shining star in this read is the relationships. At the core of this novel is a heartbreaking queer relationship of utter devotion and a determination to be tied together despite external forces. However, it was the relationships around each of the characters that I found truly astounding. In a legend that is famous for supposed loyalty and devotation, you see the hypocrisy in public images that many of the Greek Kings and Lords display, strongly contrasted with the honesty presented in personal, intimate relationships, between friends and new found family. This read, for me, and for both Achilles and Patroclus, is about finding where you belong, and who you belong there was. Through the beautifully crafted relatioships, I found myself utterly devoted to the characters and the story line, the conclusion which is imfamous becoming one that I dreaded.
I found Achilles a particularly compelling character, largely because he is so continually affected by the infection of glory. At the beginning of the two Princes’ relationships, there is an innocence that accompanies childhood, where Achilles knows what is expected of him, but it seems more like a far off dream than something that should affect his everyday life. However, as time go on, Achilles cannot escape the plague of prophesy, and he becomes so absorbed with the glory he is expected to inhabit that you have to watch, helpless and heartbroken, as the compassionate, idealistic boy you fell in love with forcibly mutates into a hungry warrior consumed by his reputation.
Whilst I was reading this, it was very clear on social media that I adored it. I pushed and pushed and pushed for others to read it, and am still doing so to this day! One of the main things people asked me though was whether they needed to know a lot about Greek Mythology to understand what was happening. And I completely understand. I have read other books where you feel like you need a character list at the beginning just to work out who everyone is! However, one of the wonderful things about Miller’s writing is that it is so inclusive and assumes no prior knowledge. Miller introduces characters as you meet them, carefully crafting their introductions to show both their reputation in legend and the truth of who they are. I found this when I read Circe too and at no point did either books leave me feeling left in the dark. The world building also aids this greatly, and it spends great time explaining the history before Achilles and how it impacts the journey of Troy that you are reading about. The complicated political histories are laid bare in front of you, criticised by Patroclus honest narrative.
This book was such a gorgeous read. I happily devoured it and have felt like it has stayed with me since – which is always the good marking of a book I think! Determined to reread Circe this month – which happily coincides with a readalong TeaBooksAndTazmyn is running on her Patreon, but I would desperately like more Greek retellings to dive into, so make sure to leave your recommendations below!