‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

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.

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.

My Review

I AM DEAD.

Words can’t describe the massive hole I felt in my life after I finished this book. All I could think of was what do I do now???? I just wanted to sit in the corner cradling this book and sobbing to myself all the while shovelling ice cream down my neck.

MY FEELS!!!!!!
OH SO MANY FEELS!!!!!!!!

PATROCLUS AND ACHILLES ARE MY BABIES!!!!!!

Okay…

Breathing…

Calming down…

The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the Trojan War… But it’s so much more than that too. At its core it is a beautiful love story between two boys fated to become soldiers rather than be just their ordinary selves. The story follows them from childhood and it’s this beautiful coming of age and discovering themselves that gives this story its living, breathing soul.

mild(ish) spoilers ahead but if you know the story of the Trojan War then you’re good

If you’ve read Homer’s The Iliad (or indeed seen the supremely dodgy Brad Pitt film Troy) you will be familiar with the story of Paris’ taking of the beautiful Helen to Troy, the subsequent war that was declared by the Greeks against the Trojans with the famed Achilles spearheading the campaign. What Madeline Miller does is twist the focus of this well known tale onto the shoulders of Achilles’ companion Patroclus and shows us the power and temperament of the godlike Achilles through the eyes of the boy he loved.

As with any retelling or reimagining it’s hard to enter into the read without any preconceived ideas. We each can have an idea about how a certain character would or indeed should act. But if you can at all let those preconceived ideas go before you start reading this and just let this version of events wash over you and gently fold you into the pages of this book. What Ms Miller brilliantly does is create a fantastically modern feeling epic that still retains that sense of the ballad that a reader may presume to expect when reading something referencing Classical Greek literature and mythology.

She imbues such heart into this old story because of Patroclus. I love this character. We see him grow from a fearing child to this brilliant young man who is prepared to give anything that is required of him for love. His purity of thought and innocence of soul grounds this book in humanity. Something that is very important because of the god-like nature of Achilles. Through Patroclus’ eyes we see the petulance of Achilles. Achilles who has always been praised, always been giving everything, always told of how wonderful he will become, how fearsome a warrior he will be… He has quite the believable air of arrogance about him but somehow, because of Patroclus, these god-complex and flaws only serve to make him more human to the eyes of the reader.

The side characters, all the names we know from Greek myths, Odysseus, Agamemnon, Diomedes… They all feature heavily and all feel wonderfully authentic but my favourite supporting characters were

  • Briseis: BECAUSE SHE KICKED SO MUCH BUTT!!!
  • Chiron the centaur: BECAUSE THOSE SCENES WITH PATROCLUS AND ACHILLES IN THE WILDS GAVE ME LIFE!!!
  • and Thetis…. THETIS MY GIRL!!!! I HATE AND LOVE YOU. YOU WERE FABULOUS. BRILLIANT CHARACTER ARC. I MEAN YOU KILLED ME BUT IT’S OKAY BECAUSE ASDFGHJKL!!!!!!!!!

Also Pyrrhus…. I HATE YOU!!! Yup. Just putting it out there. You are dead to me.

Okay so my perfect warrior boy Hector and his fantastic wife Andromache, seriously I love her speeches in The Iliad… But yeah they don’t really feature in this because it’s all about the Greeks rather than the Trojans…

BUT ULTIMATELY I WAS OKAY WITH THAT BECAUSE IT MEANT I COULD TAKE SIDES!!!!

Taking sides is fun *evil cackling*

The ending….

OH MY GOD MY POOR HEART!!!

I mean I knew the story and that climax with Patroclus and Hector….

BUT THAT DID NOT STOP ME FROM SOBBING UNCONTROLLABLY because ACHILLES!!!!! Like you were the warrior but you just let Patroclus go….

And Madeline Miller is such a cruel writer because I hated Achilles in that moment so much….
And then when that little turd Pyrrhus wouldn’t let Achilles and Patroclus rest together LIKE ACHILLES WANTED!!!!!! I raged… I WAS SO GLAD YOU DIED BECAUSE YOU WERE HORRIBLE PYRRHUS….

But then Thetis…. Like what a controversial character. I mean why did she hate Patroclus for so much of the book???
Why was he not worthy enough for Achilles EVEN THOUGH HE MADE HIM SO HAPPY!?!?!?!
Yeah… Thetis.
NOT HAPPY WITH YOU…….
until THAT ENDING.
MY GIRL THETIS HAS A HEART AND REDEEMED HERSELF AND PATROCLUS AND ACHILLES ARE TOGETHER FOREVER AND IT’S CRAZY BITTERSWEET BUT KINDA PERFECT AND I CRIED RIVERS AND MY HEART BROKE INTO A TINY MILLION PIECES BUT IT’S OKAY BECAUSE THEY ARE HAPPY FOR ETERNITY TOGETHER AS THEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN LIFE

AND I AM DEAD WITH FEELS. I JUST LOVE THIS BOOK OKAY BYE.

five stars

“Agamemnon posted guards to watch Troy every hour of every day. We were all waiting for something—an attack, or an embassy, or a demonstration of power. But Troy kept her gates shut, and so the raids continued. I learned to sleep through the day so that I would not be tired when he returned; he always needed to talk then, to tell me down to the last detail about the faces and the wounds and the movements of men. And I wanted to be able to listen, to digest the bloody images, to paint them flat and unremarkable onto the vase of posterity. To release him from it and make him Achilles again.”

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8 thoughts on “‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller – Book Review

    1. Yes!!! Circe is masterful isn’t it. Personally it’s my preferred book by Miller because I love that saga-esque style. But TSoA is heartwrenchingly beautiful. She imbues the story of the Trojan War with such freshness that it feels modern but also with such gravitas that it feels wonderfully old and traditional.

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