Author: Madeline Miller
Published (paperback): 2012, Ecco
Genre: Historical Fantasy/Mythology
Setting: Ancient Greece/Troy
The Song of Achilles takes place in the years preceding and during the Trojan War. It is told from the viewpoint of Patroclus (of Homer’s Iliad), a teenage Greek prince.
After an unfortunate accident leaves Patroclus exiled to another land, he serves the demi-god Achilles, and the two become friends and, eventually, lovers. They are inseparable, which angers Achilles’s goddess mother, Thetis, as she believes her son is destined for greatness and his love for Patroclus will get in the way. When Achilles is recruited to join in war against the Helen-thieving Trojans, Patroclus joins him and plays his part in the epic tale.
Miller’s writing is tight and lyrical and she uses the characters from the Iliad in a fresh way, but I had several problems with this novel.
1. Achilles becomes one-dimensional.
Achilles is the son of domineering sea nymph Thetis, and, while he was raised by his human father, his mother played an integral role in his psychological development, dubbing him ‘Best of all Greeks’. While Miller starts out well with Achilles—he’s humble, generous, with a love of music—those things are lost in the second half of the novel, overridden by his pride and quest for honor. While this is true to myth behavior, I was expecting more.
2. The plot dragged and gave me little incentive to turn the page.
It took me several weeks to read this book mainly because there was a lack of tension. I felt that the conflicts and the stakes were not great enough for a story of this magnitude.
3. Patroclus as a whiny, love-sick teenager was distasteful.
Imagine Twilight‘s Bella as a Greek boy. Now, I liked Twilight a lot, but the Achilles story is not the context for this type of character. I almost stopped reading it as I was so tired of Patroclus mooning over Achilles. Toward the end of the novel, Patroclus becomes more interesting when he takes on the role of healer, but Miller skims over this. Another thing that could have given him more substance was his friendship with the Trojan woman, Briseis, who has more depth than all the characters combined. If only we heard more from her.
I have to say that I was relieved when I finished this book. I was ready to move on long before the end came for Achilles.
The Song of Achilles has many great reviews and has won several awards so I know I’m a contrarian, but I’m okay with that. 😄
I already have Miller’s current release, Circe, so I will probably read this sometime soon. I hope I can post a more positive review!
What are your thoughts on The Song of Achilles?
Let me know and be sure to subscribe for more book reviews like this!