The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
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.
“Achilles. Who was he if not miraculous, and radiant? Who was he if not destined for fame?”
Reading this is like reading Romeo and Juliet. We all know the story. We all know the outcome. We all know that our desperate prayers for someone, anyone to step in and save these characters from themselves will fall on deaf ears.
Gods. What a bloody trainwreck. Even though I knew how it was going to end, I was not prepared for how much I cared.
This is the story of the fall of Troy. Or rather, a part of it. More specifically, this is the tale of Achilles and Patroclus. Of their undying love for each other. Of the lives they sacrifice on the altar of that love. Of desperate men and petty gods. Of a proud, greedy people engaged in a prolonged, bloody war.
So often in historical fiction from this time period I see the sharp edges of the Ancient Greek and Roman cultures smoothed away. I see slaves treated well and women given a voice. I’m happy to say there was none of that bullshittery here. Miller paints the pages of this book in blood and suffering. It is awash with pain and brutality. As it should be. Because historical accuracy.
But, it means that this book is not for everyone. There is a lot of sexism, misogyny, violence, bloodshed, and rape, mentioned almost offhand, because, to these characters, this behavior is commonplace. Expected. I didn’t like a single one of them. And not just because of their worldviews. There was Achilles and his hubris. Patroclus and his uselessness. Thetis and her coldness. I didn’t even like Odysseus and his famous wit, for there was an edge to it in this book that made him seem less charming and more manipulative than I remember.
That said, as much as I disliked these characters, I loved their stories. Miller took gods and legends and brought them to life within the pages of this book. She humanized these mythical beings in a way that made them seem real, fallible.
I just…I cannot say enough about this book. To me, this is literature at its finest. A beautifully written, masterfully crafted story capable of transporting readers within its pages, so enchanting them with what they find within that they forget that the real world lurks without, waiting for their return.