Saturday, September 25, 2021

Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

First published: September 20, 2011
Edition published: August 28, 2012
Publisher: Ecco
Received: purchased (through Life's Library)
Read from May 6 to September 18, 2021

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Achilles, "the best of all the Greeks," son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful, irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods' wrath.

They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice. 


The Song of Achilles was another Life's Library read that I'd been meaning to pick up since it came out in 2011 and I saw reviews for it seemingly everywhere. Life's Library has been doing a great job of helping me catch up on my miles-long "to read" list recently.

As is pretty clear from the title, this book is a retelling of Achilles' story in Greek mythology. Because I, like many people, was aware of parts of Achilles' story already, I had a good idea of what direction the story was heading in, but I wasn't familiar enough with Achille to know every single piece of the story as it unfolded. Of course, even if I was more familiar, I know there are various versions of certain stories that are in the book, so I'm sure that the way the author adapted certain parts would have still provided something new.

There are some aspects of the book that stay true to Greek mythology, especially in regards to sexual violence, which makes certain scenes uncomfortable to read. At the same time, I found it interesting how the author seemed to have made certain decisions that highlighted that these things happened but also to try to exonerate the main characters from being "too" guilty of these same actions. This was particularly seen in Achilles' and Patroclus' treatment of Briseis. I won't go into details because it's a spoiler, but I got the sense that their treatment of her was heavily influenced by our time period and the two of them needing to be heroes in the story. That doesn't mean the main characters get off scot free. Achilles in particular does some pretty abhorrent things later in the story, but there did seem to be an effort not to make him as terrible as he could have been.

Overall, I enjoyed the book, though the time period did make the characters difficult to relate to at times. The story being told in Patroclus' point-of-view instead of Achilles' made it particularly interesting to me as he's not the supposed "hero" of the whole story. It was such a great way to explore this part of Greek mythology.

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