Written By: Madeline Miller
Published By: Ecco
Reviewed By: Melissa Minners
Being a rabid fan of all things mythology, it is no wonder that one of my Christmas presents would be a book based on mythology. The story of the Trojan War has been told by many, most famously by Homer in The Iliad. Thus, many have heard the tale of the great hero Achilles and his faithful companion Patroclus, but none have ever told the story quite like Madeline Miller in The Song of Achilles.
The Song of Achilles is centered on Patroclus, a young boy who is seen by his father as more of a nuisance than an heir. His lack of agility and grace is abhorrent to the King and thus, Patroclus is ignored by his father. His mother has her own psychological issues and can’t truly do anything to help her son’s situation. When Patroclus is bullied by the son of a nobleman, he fights back, accidentally killing the boy. Patroclus is sentenced to be exiled and his father sends him to Phthia to be raised by King Peleus. It is here that he meets the king’s son, Achilles.
At first, Patroclus has difficulty settling in, but Achilles soon takes notice of his father’s new ward and decides to make him his companion. This is not unusual for the times as young princes often take on another boy to be his mate and join him in schooling and various adventures. But there is something about Achilles that is captivating to Patroclus. Perhaps it is his birthright. After all, Achilles is the son of the King of Phthia and the nymph Thetis, making Achilles a half-God as well as the heir to the Phthian throne. But perhaps it was that Achilles was everything Patroclus was not: athletic, beautiful, relaxed, arrogant, beloved.
The two soon become more than just friends, much to the chagrin of Thetis who wants her son to complete the prophecy of greatness long foretold for Achilles. Unfortunately, while that prophecy paints Achilles as a great hero of the Greeks, it also foretells his death. Thetis worries that Achilles’ love for Patroclus will prevent him from meeting his destiny. She may be right, for Achilles and Patroclus have devised a way to stall things, having no wish for their relationship to end so soon. But none can delay what is destined for them and Patroclus must decide whether it is worth the pain to allow Greece to fall at the hands of the Trojans or to allow Achilles to achieve what he is destined to become.
I’ve enjoyed many tales about the Trojan War, but The Song of Achilles is a new and rather inciteful version. The earliest tales of Achilles and Patroclus describe their friendship in vague terms, but certain incidents described in The Iliad evoke the greatest emotion from each character, leading one to believe that they are more than friends. In making them lovers, Madeline Miller brings incite into the actions of Patroclus and Achilles during the Trojan War that no other author truly has. I loved that Miller fleshed out Patroclus’ character more than it has ever previously been before. It made the reader more inclined to root for Patroclus and Achilles, despite whether or not they knew the outcome of the war.
The descriptiveness of the writing brings the world of Patroclus and Achilles to life for the reader. Characters are well fleshed out and their locales are easily viewed in the mind’s eye of the reader. The story has been told before, but never like this and it is utterly captivating. Seeing things through the eyes of Patroclus is an entirely new experience and suits the story well. I found The Song of Achilles to be a tremendously enjoyable read and have already recommended it to all of the fellow mythology lovers I know.