‘The Song of Achilles’ by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles

A gay Greek extravaganza.

The Song of Achilles is a story of love, battle and heartbreak, set during the time of the Trojan War in Ancient Greece. It follows the story of Prince Achilles and his beloved comrade Patroclus through their childhood and into a war that threatens to end their intimate companionship forever. What Madeline Miller has essentially done is taken the original myth of Achilles and elaborated on certain aspects of it to create her story. And it’s a good one…

Achilles and Patroclus meet through unconventional circumstances after Patroclus does the unforgivable and kills the son of a nobleman, and is subsequently sent away by his father to Phthia. Achilles, the child of a sea nymph and king of the Myrmidons, is a confident character. Almost arrogant in his acknowledgement of his fighting abilities and good looks, he’s well aware of what his destiny to be a god means to others. I liked his character a lot; he said what he thought and didn’t take orders from anybody, despite what the consequences could be. Patroclus is a slightly more shy character, not possessing the same skills of Achilles, he’s more interested in medicine and doing whatever he can for his companion. Their friendship begins through a mutual enjoyment of lyre playing, and subsequently they’re taken on a journey through medicine and combat in Pelion, before arriving in Troy for a war that could destroy them both.

Love and war are the main themes in this book, and teenage lust in an Ancient Greek setting makes for an interesting story. I really enjoyed reading as their relationship developed beyond an adolescent crush and into a deep meaningful love – one which Miller has made utterly believable. I really liked that it was small things rather than heavily romantic scenes that convinced you of their love. I’m really not a fan of romantic stories and that’s why I liked that their relationship was not overly sentimental. It’s expressed through the language that Patroclus uses to describe Achilles’ strength and beauty, small gestures like a gentle hand on an injury, that are used instead of epic love scenes. I was fully invested in them being together and Miller managed to paint them as a strong and loving couple, one that you wanted to succeed despite the epic war going on around them. The battles scenes in the book were good, but sometimes I found something anti-climactic about them. I wanted more than what was given, more graphic descriptions perhaps. If you’re not a fan of gore or war and battle then don’t be put off, there’s less detail and emphasis on the Battle of Troy itself.

The language in this novel is not overly-complicated and the sentence structure is simple, making this an easy read. The hardest thing for me was keeping track of all of the minor characters and trying to figure out how to say their names! I’m used to reading books which have more complicated language and sentence-structure so this book gave me a really entertaining and relaxing read. It’s a great one to just pick up and read with a cup of tea; it describes a world so far removed from today and it’s really enjoyable to get lost in some Ancient Greek adventure. There are some beautiful descriptions of the various places that Patroclus and Achilles travel to, and they provided me with wonderfully vivid and rich images.

If you’ve already studied Ancient Greece, or heard of Achilles’ story, then I would definitely recommend reading this as it builds upon this fascinating myth and creates an unusual and engaging piece of fiction. To read about Achilles’ life with more emphasis on his supposed homosexuality than the great battle he fought, makes this a captivating untold part of his story. Alternatively, if you want to read something that’s completely different, then this unconventional love story is something that I would definitely suggest. I found the last one hundred pages enthralling and they were definitely the best of the whole novel. The epic battles intertwined with the saddest moments of the story made for compelling reading. It made me smile, gasp, and very nearly cry. I didn’t want the book to end, and it would have been wonderful to read what happened after the story ended… When it comes down to it, this is essentially a love story (albeit, not an overly gushy one) wrapped up in a fierce battle.

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