Rummanah Aasi
  If you were to ask readers of the Illiad who would you consider the hero of this epic poem, many would say without any hesitation that it is Hector, the Prince of Troy and Paris's brother. I don't think Achilles would be in the running, much less seen as a romantic figure, but it is undeniable to recognize his ferocity, strength, and rage that made him a one-man killing machine. His wrath so powerful that it starts The Illiad. In Madeline Miller's debut novel, The Song of Achilles, we get a to look at the softer side of Achilles beneath his fury and bloodshed as the story of the Trojan War is told from the perspective of Patroculus, Achilles's beloved.

Description: Patroclus, an awkward young prince, 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. Set during the Trojan War.

Review: Miller's book expands on the little known relationship between Achilles and Patroculus. Though they are briefly mentioned together in a few lines in Homer's epic poem, we don't have much detail about their relationship except for the devastating loss experience by both characters. The Song of Achilles begins with the adolescence of Patroculus through the battle weary years of the Trojan War. Neither handsome nor athletic, Patroculus has nothing to offer his father. When he accidentally kills a bully, he is exiled to Phthia and befriended by confident Prince Achilles. While Patroculus is mortal, soft, and gentle, Achilles's demigod divinity shines through his physique and mannerisms. Though there is a clearly distinct separation of these two boys, there is a mutual attraction and unvocalized equality towards one another. When they speak, they are equals. They seek out each other for advice, share their fears, and over time their friendship blooms into love. I admire Miller for refusing to simplify the relationship between Achilles and Patroculus in sexual terms. They are friends, confidants, lovers, and so much more. To trivialize their relationship is to take away the huge impact it has made in the plot of the Trojan War, but also of their own character arcs.
  Strong attention to character development and relationships is the foundation of this remarkable book. There is a constant battle (pun unintended) of desiring glory, honor, power, and above all immortality. Miller entwines popular myths into her story such as the birth of Achilles, Helen's marriage to Meleanus, and Achilles' mother Thetis desperate attempts to disguise and hide her son from enlisting in the war. As readers of Greek mythology already know, the is no happy ending to the Trojan War.
  In addition to the central story of Achilles and Patroclus, Miller offers a complex study of a few selected female characters that hold as much power and attention though their appearances in the book may be brief.  Briseis, the trophy beauty who inspires a rift between Achilles and Agamemnon, shows how war has affected Achilles and his relationship with Patroculus. Iphigenia's sacrifice at Aulis in one quick, brutal image is a constant reminder of what 10 long years of war will bring. Thetis, Achilles' sea nymph mother makes us quake in horror with her divinity yet we can't help but sympathize with her futile attempts to save her son. These are all probing relationships that Homer only hinted at.
  With language both evocative and lyrical of her predecessors and fresh outlook on familiar scenes that explore new territory, Miller is clearly a lover of ancient Greece. While I will always be a fan of Hector and have my heart broken by his death, Miller did make me pause and see Achilles and Patroculus in a new light.  The pacing of the book is steady as we try to prepare ourselves of the heartbreak that is bound to happen. Millers book loses a bit of steam towards the end of the book where the whole war is quickly wrapped up and that's the only thing that prevented me from giving it a five star rating. Readers interested in Greek mythology should not miss this book. I'm eagerly looking forward to reading more from Miller.

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, sexual situations, and strong violence including rape and torture. Recommended for mature teens interested in Greek mythology and adults only.

If you like this book try: The Illiad by Homer (translation by Robert Fagles is highly recommended), The Age of Bronze graphic novel series by Eric Shanower, Achilles by Elizabeth Cook, The King Must Die by Mary Renault, Ransom by David Malouf
5 Responses
  1. It has been so long since I read about the Trojan war. My memory is scant on all this except of course the vicious slaying of Hector by Achilles and such. A very high rating from you, this is worthy of checking out. I do love this story and now I have visions of Brad Pitt in my head as Achilles, not a bad thing at all.

  2. I love strong character development and relationships as well. I haven't heard of this one but liked your review.
    Happy reading,
    Brandi @ Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  3. Jenny Says:

    Wow, this is a truly beautiful review Rummanah! I've always been fascinated with Achilles and the Trojan War and I've had this book on my list for a while. I need to get to it asap. The relationship between Patroculus and Achilles sounds beautiful and painful and I know I'm going to have to put on some emotional armor before I pick this one up!

  4. This sounds amazing! I am shamed to admit I have not read The Iliad, but I know the gist of it. I will definitely be getting this one and checking to see if she has anything else. What a great review, Rummanah! Thank you!!


  5. Yay, I'm so glad you loved this one too, Rummanah! I really enjoyed how Miller gave the Iliad a more modern feel while still staying true to Homer's work and all the myths associated with Achilles.

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