Book Review : The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
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 differences, 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’s 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.
The review on this book will based on its plot, character development, how well the story was told. Please note that in this review there will be no comparing Ms. Miller’s retelling of Achilles and Patroclus’ tale with Homer’s Iliad or any other retellings.
A Sneak Peek Into The Story :
Patroclus. Son of Menoitius, who was a king and the son of kings. Despite him being borne into wealth and power, his father, Menoitius, had only ever been disappointed in him. Small and slight, he was not the son that his father expects. Patroclus was not strong, he was not fast, he could not play instruments nor could he sing. Sooner rather than later, with each passing day, his father grow to detest him more and more.
When he was five, it happened to be Menoitius’s turn to host the games. His father wanted it to be the best and finest game of the generation. Because if he could not show off his son, he could at least show the Greeks just how prosperous and generous him and his kingdom was. Men gathered from all over Greece to attend the games.
“ Who was he if not miraculous and radiant? Who was he if not destined for fame?”
It was then that he saw the boy. Long golden strands, body slicked with oil as he stretched on the track. He was shorter than most men gathering on the track, but his face was serious and determined. Patroclus watched him ran with an ease that most men did not possess. In the end, he won.
It was five years later when he saw the boy again. Patroclus was ten when he was exiled to Phthia. The kingdom was tiny compared to his father’s, smallest in the country. And it was its king, Peleus, who the gods love. He was only mortal, though mortal he may be, he was also clever, brave, and handsome. And as a reward, the gods gave him a sea-nymph for a wife. It was considered the highest of honor, after all, what mortals would not want to have a goddess as wife? As if it wasn’t enough, the goddess brought more good news. The prophecy had foretold that her son would surpass his father and Peleus would never have to worry about his line no more.
Upon arriving in Phthia, Patroclus assumed that he would be brought to the throne room to kneel and convey his thanks and gratitude to the generous king Peleus. However, on that fateful day, king Peleus was absent so instead, he was brought to present himself to Peleus’ son. The boy did not even acknowledge him even Patroclus walked into the room. He was lying on his back, plucking the strings of the a lyre when he asked Patroclus of his name.
Those seconds, half seconds, that the line of our gaze connected,
were the only moment in my day that I felt anything at all.
After he told the boy his name, he half-expected the boy to mock him, but the boy did none of those things. The boy did not even seem to recognize Patroclus at all. At last, he turned onto his side to face Patroclus and revealed his name. Achilles. His name was Achilles.
While I try to branch out every now and then out of the genre I read, if I were to be honest, it is very unlikely for me to choose to read historical fiction. The difficult language in which most historical fiction books usually are written and the long arduous description about war, revenge, and bloodbath just doesn’t sound like a good time to me. And when I came upon this book, I was skeptical.
I worried that I would not like it despite the hype that this book has garnered. After years and years of putting it off, I finally decided that I was ready to pick this book up. And after three days of marathoning through this book, I regret all those years that I spent running away from it.
“The Song of Achilles” is a masterpiece. The way Miller was able to catch my attention from the very first sentence never fail to astound me. Her writing is absolutely brilliant, rich and full of exquisite detail. The way she weaves words and the way she explains things is so tangible that you will feel yourself immediately pulled into the story. Her usage of imagery alone is beautiful. Her writing style is so wonderful in the way it makes you appreciate and notice even the smallest of details.
This is a story about the fall of Troy. More precisely, it is a story of Achilles and Patroclus. Despite the gruesomeness of war and gory painting the backdrop, Miller never fails to keep the affection and adoration alive between Achilles and Patroclus. By telling this story from Patroclus’s point of view, Miller adds her own spin into the tale.
“ I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind,
by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth.
I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
Patroclus was a selfless and understanding man. He sees Achilles with so much hope and beauty even when there are times where Achilles were being too selfish. Another things that this book did is reshape the myth of Achilles and made him human.
“This, I say. This and this. The way his hair looked in summer sun. His face when he ran. His eyes, solemn as an owl at lessons. This and this and this.
Achilles, grinning as the figs blur in his hands. His green eyes laughing into mine. Catch, he says. Achilles, outlined against the sky, hanging from a branch over the river. The thick warmth of his sleepy breath against my ear. If you have to go, I will go with you. My fears forgotten in the golden harbor of his arms.”
He feel so human because we saw him from Patroclus’s eyes. Following Achilles from when he was a boy, readers get to see him grow up before their eyes. Remembering that way Achilles dreads his first kill, how peaceful and happy he is when he is around Patroclus, the way he would always excitedly tell Patroclus everything. And all those moments when you see, so clearly just how much Achilles love and care for Patroclus. The bond between Patroclus and Achilles is beautiful and moving as their relationship – through out the years – developed in the most realistic and genuine way.
If you have read the Illiad, or seen any movie based in it, you already know the outcome. However, even after knowing what would happen in the end, Miller still manages to blow me away with her magnificent execution. This book will, no doubt, stay with me for a long time to come.