“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”
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. By all rights their paths should never cross, but Achilles takes the shamed prince as his friend, 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 then word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus journeys with Achilles to Troy, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
How to begin this review? H O W ? To say this book ripped my heart out and made me cry incessantly would be a vast understatement. There are very few books I read which genuinely stay with me for years and I already know that The Song of Achilles will be one of them. As I’ve mentioned in my review of The Silence of The Girls – I have a deep fascination *cough* obsession, with Greek Mythology so TSOA gave me all of the tragedy, romance, cruel Gods and Goddesses, bloody battles and heart wrenching prose I needed. Despite the fact that I knew how things would turn out, reading the way it all happened still BROKE ME.
The novel is told entirely through the perspective of Patroclus, a young prince who is exiled due to an unfortunate turn of fate and thus sent to live in the court of King Peleus, and his son, Achilles. At first he is wary of his new surroundings and resentful of Achilles as he is the golden boy, a fine warrior and everything, Patroclus is not. However, one day, Achilles seeks him out and after a short time, they become inseparable. The connection they experience with each other after an adolescence of loneliness is unlike any other and so begins a truly beautiful and unbreakable bond between the two.
As Achilles and Patroclus grow into teenagers, the threat of destiny and a ominous prophecy delivered by Thetis (Achilles mother) encroaches upon the idyllic life they have created. I LOVED the whole prophecy aspect of the story, it adds much more weight to the decisions the characters make and there is so much foreshadowing and symbolism for what is to come. This makes it all the more tragic and painful as the book progresses and you put the pieces together.
Achilles has been training his whole life to be ‘Aristos Achaion‘ which translates to ‘Best of the Greeks’, when the Trojan war begins, he sees no other option than to accept his destiny and seek the glory which has been promised to him. TSOA takes place in a world of honor, battle and sacrifice, where a warriors prowess in battle is his legacy so it’s natural to accept a kings call to battle. Patroclus follows and so begins an exceedingly long and excruciating war, which changes them both irrevocably.
I think this is a fitting depiction of what war can do to different individuals – for Achilles it fulfils his sense of purpose and pride but leaves him a bit more jaded, for Patroclus it enables him to help people but takes a huge emotional toll on him to see the suffering of the men. This is a point of contention between the two, Achilles is more pragmatic whilst Patroclus is more emotional. These characters have flaws, they make bad decisions, they may even annoy you or make you hate them but this is what makes them so gloriously human and compelling.
On the whole this is a story about love. A love which is strong and unquestionable, eternal and incredibly powerful. A story where the emotion is so pure, where it doesn’t have to be explicitly shown or spoon fed to the reader, yet it’s so obvious in every interaction and permeates each page till the very end. This moved me so deeply, I think you guys can tell this book means a lot to me.
As well as the story between Achilles and Patroclus which provides a solid backbone to the book, there are a number of other characters which shape the tale. From Agamemmnon – who I seriously disliked anyway, having read The Oresteia by Aeschylus – the prideful and arrogant leader of the Greek forces to Odysseus, a wily and skilful warrior, the range is substantial and helps enhance the story. I also liked that Briseis did have a presence within the text too, I seriously love her after reading The Silence of The Girls by Pat Barker. Although the portrayals are quite different from that book to Millers, she is such an interesting character, I can’t help but admire her.
Not only is the story itself so breathtaking, Madeline Millers writing is truly something to behold. I can’t believe that this was her debut novel and it’s just. so. good! Miller has a gift for making every single word count, and they just hit you differently. I have a common criticism when it comes to some books I read whereby they faff about too much and take ages to make their point but Miller knows just how to get to the point and execute it beautifully too. The description, the imagery, the way the sentences flow like poetry, it was so rich and I was utterly immersed.
Another thing I loved about this book was the fact that it makes The Iliad so much more accessible. I don’t know about you guys but as much as I love it, the language and form of The Iliad can be off putting to readers who are unfamiliar with it so a retelling like this one acts as the perfect way for new readers to be introduced to a classic story. I would also like to point out that Miller does have extensive knowledge of Classics which is clear in the way the story is written, it feels very true to the origins of this tale but with some tweaks and way more depth and character development. Miller has done such a fantastic job of making everything feel natural and so tangible despite it taking place in such an Ancient landscape worlds apart from our own. It’s like the best type of fanfic except in my eyes this is now canon and exactly how it all happened, I refuse to accept anything else!
My favourite quotes:
“I could recognise 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.”“Philtatos,” Achilles replied, sharply. Most beloved.”
“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. So many moments of happiness, crowding forward.” “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”
“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.”
Overall, I can’t recommend this book enough, it’s an absolutely beautiful and touching book which will be sure to stay with you long after you turn the last page. The feeling this book gave me is almost indescribable I wanted to live in it and bask in its beauty forever. I definitely have a huge book hangover but luckily I have Millers next book Circe ready to read!
Have you read The Song of Achilles? If so, what did you think? If not, does this sound like the kind of book you’d be into? Would love to chat in the comments!
Until next time,