Author: Madeline Miller
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Published Date: September 20th 2011
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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. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, 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 when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
Even now as I write this review, my head’s clouded with all sorts of feelings. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this book. The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the Iliad, but in a way that focuses on Achilles and Patroclus and paints the characters like humans.
It all begins with Patroclus, an awkward young prince who never seems enough to appease his father. We follow him as he is exiled from his home to king Peleus’s court. Peleus’s son, Achilles is everything Patroclus isn’t- confident, fierce and respected, and yet, the young prince befriends him. Patroclus’s narrative takes us through their childhood, their friendship that grows into something more and the many obstacles thrown their way (mostly Thetis, Achilles’s mother). We follow them as they get tangled up in the throes of war and we see as their friendship, their love gets tested along the way.
Miller’s writing is so unique, it’s almost like a poem. She captured the pain, the laughter and all the humanity you could possibly find in the tale of gods, goddesses and heroes. Most of the story focuses on the Trojan War and the cruelty that derives from the blind greed for honor and glory. Madeline doesn’t attempt to avoid all the ugly that comes with war- there is death, so much of it. She doesn’t shy away from getting into gory details. There are even parts that made me cringe. But it was done so well that it felt realistic.
Aside from all that, there was the sweet almost dream-like quality to the relationship of Achilles and Patroclus. It felt like there was an impending doom over their perfect, celestial moments, but that made it even more special and even more beautiful. You find yourself transported, so transfixed in what they have that you get too invested. Each time something seemed to interrupt their solitary little world, I feel myself despairing right alongside them.
And as we swam, or played, or talked, a feeling would come. It was almost like fear, in the way it filled me. It was almost like tears, in how swiftly it came. But it was neither of those, buoyant where they were heavy, bright where they were dull.
I found myself too fond of Patroclus with his clumsiness and gentleness, and his kind heart. Even Achilles, I got too invested in. He was too focused over a prophecy, intent on gaining honor and making a lasting effect of his name. Often times, I wanted to strangle him; sometimes I wanted to hug him, but I could never dislike him. I like their dynamic, how they were each other’s source of strength. I loved how they always told each other everything. There was no dishonesty, no secrets between them. Even as Achilles got immersed into the war and had to live up to his title as hero with dead bodies trailing behind him, Patroclus was still there for him.
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 o 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 unremarkable onto the vase of posterity. To release him from it and make him Achilles again.
I wanted more of them; there could never be enough of them for me. I wish there had been less of the strategies and battles and scrambling for power. I wish there was more of their little moments. I wish they’d never left Mount Pelion.
“Name one hero who was happy.”
I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family; Theseus lost his bride and father; Jason’s children and new wife were murdered by his old; Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus’ back.
“You can’t.” He was sitting up now, leaning forward.
“I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this.
“I’m going to be the first.” He took my palm and held it to his. “Swear it.”
“Because you’re the reason. Swear it.”
“I swear it,” I said, lost in the high color of his cheeks, the flame in his eyes.
“I swear it,” he echoed.
We sat like that a moment, hands touching. He grinned.
“I feel like I could eat the world raw.”
In the end, this book left me feeling heartbroken and tired, but also hopeful. I don’t think I can sleep now… I can’t stop thinking about them. In my opinion, that’s a sign of a good book.
Find Author at: http://www.madelinemiller.com/