Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.
Achilles, “best of all the Greeks,” is everything Patroclus is not—strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess—and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative connection gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper—despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.
Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men 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. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.
Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.
2020 may have been an absolute shocker of a year but I feel very lucky to have read some truly incredible books over the last ten months. That being said, we are coming to the end of October and i’m pretty sure I gave out my favourite book of the year award, along with my shattered heart, way back in April.
I have always loved Greek Mythology. It is fascinating to see how much of our popular culture is rooted in those tales of the ancients. The Trojan War, in my opinion, truly is the greatest story ever told.
Achilles, the strongest of all warriors, was one of those names we were brought up knowing alongside the other great heroes, Gods and Goddesses. So ingrained into our own histories and stories.
Most of us also associate him with being a cold blooded murderer and a hugely spoilt brat.
I never thought I would read a piece of fiction that would make me fall for Achilles, or that I would view him as anything but a monster, but boy did this heartbreaking little book prove me wrong.
“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”
However, it is not Achilles who is the hero of this tale.
The Song of Achilles is told from the perspective of Patroclus, a name we know from the ancient texts as nothing more than the ultimate side character, the most beloved of Achilles companions.
Patroclus fate had been tied to that of the demi-god Achilles since they were young boys running around the palace of Peleus. Their tragic destinies but a shadow in a very distant future. Not worth worrying, when there was so much to discover about their world and about one another.
“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?”
Millers writing is so deliciously immersive, reluctantly putting down the book to deal with real life was like gasping for air. The need to finish the story desperate and burning. There have been many stories that have caused my eyes to well up over the years but I could count on one hand those that have caused tears to roll down my face. This book made me sob.
This is primarily a love story and for the first half of the book you cant help but believe that these two golden boys would cheat their destinies. Why would Achilles fight in a war that he knew he would not return from? A war that he had no interest in?
One of the most intriguing things about the Ancient Greeks was their desperation for ‘Kleos’. What they would sacrifice for eternal glory, the willingness to die early for their names to live forever. This book explores that obsession.
The latter pages are filled with such harrowing pain it’s almost uncomfortable to read. Characters so tortured by grief that barely a shadow of their former selves remain. Now consumed with rage and revenge which is unleashed with devastating consequences.
Other than our two protaganists I was pleasently suprised by how well written the supporting characters were. Achilles’ overbearing and cruel mother Thetis, the renowned teacher of heroes Chiron and the tragic fated Briseis all being extremely well fleshed out.
“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.”
It has been months since I read this book yet I still think of it every day. Madeline Miller has achieved her own kleos in my mind.
Have you read The song of Achilles? What did you think?