Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

25969223The Song of Achilles

by Madeline Miller

Ebook edition, 290 pages

Published March 6th, 2012 by Harper Collins


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.

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“I will go,” he said. “I will go to Troy.”
The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious death would drink his blood, and grow young again.
He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.
“Will you come with me?” he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death. “Yes,” I whispered. “Yes.”

I have always loved greek mythology, but Trojan War, along with Hades and Persephone, are my favorites. Maybe it is the tragedy surrounding the war, the romanticized idea that it was all for love, or the glory that follows that allows the story to be immortalized. I know the story by heart, even the people that ignorant with the story would at least know the main plot or heard the name of the great hero Achilles. For some reason, I never pay attention to Achilles and his companions. I always favored Priam and Odysseus, sometimes Hector depending on the depictions, but never Achilles, let alone Patroclus. And yet, all the rave reviews and heart breaking sounds I’ve heard on goodreads really convinced me to read this book, despite my indifference towards Achilles and Patroclus.

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

At the beginning, I prefer Achilles over Patroclus. Patroclus is all doom and gloom, while Achilles is bright. But after a while, I come to prefer Patroclus and his quietness, yet always alert and thinking than Achilles vivaciousness.  Achilles always seemed arrogant to me, ill tempered, maybe because his godly powers. We all know how he joined the war for glory, hailed the best of them all, and eventually his fight with Agamemnon. We all know how his story ended, his powers and glory, and yet we almost know nothing of his life before the war. Seeing him from Patroclus’ eyes is really something. We see his soft side, his playful side, his loving side. We see him as mortal and boy, as Patroclus equals and yet also protector. Seeing them growing up together, soaking and savoring each moments. Loving each other in secret, and yet also openly. We see how lost he was with grief, and how he would do anything to be with Patroclus again. In the end, his desire for glory cost him what mattered to him the most, and it drove him mad with grief that he killed Hector even though he knew it would cost him his life.

Other than Achilles and Patroclus, we also meet an all too familiar cast of characters. Odysseus with his wit, Agamemnon with his pride, Ajax with his own power, Paris with his recklessness, Hector with his ability to defend Troy, and Priam with his kindness. The story mostly stayed true to the Illiad, with only a few changes to personal thoughts and feelings.

“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.”

The writing is really beautiful, I can’t explain really well without embarassing myself. It’s tender, delicate and beautiful. It’s like an intricate weaving, colorful and vivid. It’s like your comfort food, warm and makes you want to fill yourself with them. If I read a physical copy, it would be full of tabs, but alas, I read an e-book copy (I would definitely buy a book). It’s as tender and fragile, yet strong, as the love between Achilles and Patroclus themselves.

I would never looked at the word “Patroclus” without thinking of “Pa-tro-clus” and “this and this and this” without my heart breaking.

“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 can’t.”
“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.”
“Why me?”
“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.

The Song of Achilles is everything I wanted and more. It shines a different light to the story of Trojan War and the tragedy that was Achilles. It is a story about love and friendship, loyalty and kindness, ambition and downfall. It is a quiet observation of a lover, loving and admiring, to his lover. It is powerful, heartbreaking, and lovely. A truly amazing journey for everyone who read it, whether they love greek mythology or not.

“In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”

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26 thoughts on “Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

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