The Song of Achilles Book Review
Updated: Sep 7, 2022
If reading Circe made me begin to fall in love with Madeline Miller's work, she definitely hooked me with The Song of Achilles. I wish I had read this one first, but alas, I cannot change what has passed.
The Song of Achilles is just as beautiful as Circe, but with more action, plot, and emotional turmoil. Get ready to hear (read?) me say "I love" a jillion times, because that's exactly how I feel about this book.
Genre: Fantasy / Mythology Retelling
Category: Cozy Read
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RATING: 5/5 Stars
Plot: 5/5 stars
Characters: 5/5 stars
World: 5/5 stars
Pairing: Figs + wine
He would sail to Troy and I would follow him, even into death.
Before I get into the plot, I have to say I found it interesting how this book is named for and about Achilles, yet told by Patroclus. Though he is the narrator and undoubtedly important to the story, he seems almost a secondary character until he takes matters into his own hands toward the end of the book. I like the conversational tone, the way the reader is addressed—as if Patroclus is speaking directly to the reader.
I also enjoyed the themes of bravery, camaraderie, equality, honesty, loyalty, love, and doing what you feel is right.
Like with Miller's reimagining of Circe, Patroclus is born of royal blood but outcast after an accident puts blood on his hands. He's taken in by the King of Phthia. While living among the other fosters of Peleus, a couple of things become evident:
Patroclus has no desire to learn to fight and is unskilled in the warrior's arts.
He is drawn to Achilles, and Achilles has—for some reason that is lost on Patroclus—taken an interest in him.
When Achilles requests that his father allow Patroclus to become his sworn companion, it sets them on a beautiful and tragically-fated path. The two become inseparable, taking classes together, going to Mount Pelion to train alongside each other under Chiron, and eventually going to war together when Helen and Paris enrage Menelaus and Agamemnon.
If you're familiar with his story, you know it does not end well for either of the main characters; yet that doesn't stop you from seeing it through. The last quarter-to-third of this story is so exciting that the book becomes un-put-downable. The anticipation of knowing what's destined before it comes to pass, the waiting for your heart to finally break, is the best and worst part.
"They never let you be famous and happy." He lifted an eyebrow. "I'll tell you a secret." [...] "I'm going to be the first." He took my palm and held it to his. "Swear it."
"Because you're the reason. Swear it."
"I swear it," I said, lost in the high color of his cheeks, the flame in his eyes.
"I swear it," he echoed.
I love the dichotomy of Patrochilles. Patroclus is a shy and gentle healer with a big heart who remembers the soldiers he tends to, while Achilles is a fighter who kills rather than heals, who feels it’s easier to be remembered by everyone than to learn the names and faces of his comrades.
I adore their relationship—how they are always completely honest with each other, forgive each other, the way they love and accept each other as they are, and how Patroclus especially flourished in this relationship. I love how Patroclus sees beyond the warrior, finding the beauty in every aspect of his lover, from his skill in battle to his skill with the lyre. I love how fiercely Achilles loves Patroclus, how he refuses to hide their relationship for the sake of masculine pride and keeps an eye on Patroclus on the battlefield. And the sheer emotion he shows at the end. UGH!
"I wish he had let you all die."
I also loved the friendship between Patroclus and Briseis, and how both of them were so good. I got fired up when his normally mild temperament becomes murderous rage when she is wronged. I appreciated how she was able to accept that his love could only be platonic, and she did not hold it against him. I admired how—though thousands of men cowered at Achilles' name alone—Briseis was unafraid to hurl words at him like spears, calling him out for his hubris and faults. She's brave to the very end, and I love that about her.
Like I said in my review of Circe, Odysseus is an interesting character with his clever mind, way with people, and knack for storytelling. If he hadn't played such a role in these two books, I wouldn't have minded Miller giving him his own book, but I understand it would be redundant at this point.
Miller also does a great job with the other major players and making me loathe them: the proud and temperamental Agamemnon with his greed and desire for bloodshed and glory, and Thetis—Achilles' cold, immortal mother and her hatred of his relationship with Patroclus. As a testament to Miller's writing ability, despite his very short role at the end, I absolutely hated Pyrrhus, Achilles' son.
Miller does an excellent job painting each setting, and I particularly liked Chiron's camp. I also like how she layers so much Greek culture into the story, from the games to their interaction with and worship of the gods. While it's mostly Thetis who appears in this novel, the other gods are definitely present—pulling strings and letting their feelings be known.
The story also brings up questions about how we treat others—the value of a loved one over a stranger, the division and coming together of nations, how to know if our choices are right or wrong, how opinions affect choices and legacies, and so much more.
Madeline Miller really got me with The Song of Achilles. Her writing hooked me, and her characters captured my heart. I couldn't put the book down after a certain point, and I might have shed a tear or two at the end. She has a talent for retelling these stories so closely to their original plot while breathing new life into them.
I highly recommend this story to readers who love mythology and retellings and to anyone looking for a gripping, emotional, well-written book with an awesome portrayal of a queer couple with a healthy relationship. Or, ya know, masochists who want their heart ripped out.
I am made of memories.
Have you read this masterpiece? If so, let me know how you felt about it in the comments section! Or, as always, you can find me lurking around our bookstagram and Twitter accounts. I look forward to hearing from you!