All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Song Of Achilles by Madeline Miller

on September 5, 2017

The Song Of Achilles
Madeline Miller
Bloomsbury Publishing
2012, 352p
Purchased personal copy

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. 

But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear. 

I remember when this book came out. It was longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2012 and I probably bought a copy in either late 2012 or early 2013. And it’s basically sat on my TBR bookcase ever since. I recently saw someone mention it in a Booktube video I was watching and so when I signed up for #TheReadingQuest Challenge and saw the topic for a book based on mythology, this book was fresh in my mind and became my choice.

In high school I only ever did the basic compulsory history in grades 7 and 8 which focused on {whitewashed} Australian history and our role in the major wars (Boer, WWI, WWII and Vietnam). Although I did elect Ancient History for my year 11 preferences, it clashed with another course I’d chosen and I wanted to do that course more so I didn’t end up doing Ancient History. So I’ve pretty much done no foreign history, no mythology studies, nothing. The closest I’ve come was having to read parts of Homer’s The Odyssey in Advanced English, which revolves around Odysseus’ journey home after the War of Troy. I haven’t even seen Troy the movie. My knowledge of the War of Troy is basically just gathered from pop culture references such as the Trojan horse and the “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” etc. I know the basics of why the war began and how it ended and I know of Achilles because of the heel thing. But honestly? Going into this book I was pretty much a clean slate.

Patroclus is an awkward Prince, not really a physically impressive child. In the beginning of the novel his father takes him to press suit for Helen, daughter of the King Tyndareus. There are many suitors there and a young man named Odysseus speaks eloquently to say that all the men should allow the woman to choose her own husband and that the others will swear not to declare war on Tyndareus or on Helen’s new choice of husband. And that the suitors there should ever defend her husband, should anyone ever take her from him (which will be important much later). Patroclus is only a child of 9 or 10 and is therefore not really a contender. After returning back to his father’s palace he is involved in an incident that leads him being exiled to the court of King Peleus, the father of Achilles.

Achilles is everything that Patroclus is not, he has greatness stamped upon him and prophecies foretell him being the greatest warrior there ever was. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends Patroclus and names him his special companion, which exempts Patroclus from the training and regime of the other boys fostered at King Peleus’ court. Achilles trains in private and will undergo a specific education, fitting of his prophecy. As they age, the two boys grow closer and closer, the lines of friendship blur into something more, enraging Achilles’ mother Thetis, a sea-goddess who disapproves of Patroclus. After Helen flees to Troy with Paris, that old pact is invoked…and Odysseus comes looking for the world’s greatest warrior as well as Patroclus, who was there the day they all swore their loyalty. After going to great lengths to avoid being conscripted in this war at his mother’s insistence, Achilles finds himself exposed and they sail for Troy.

I had no expectations when I began reading this and other than what I mentioned above, I didn’t know the details of the War itself so I was able to just enjoy the story. It’s incredibly compelling, whether it’s the growing relationship between Patroclus and Achilles, this mismatched pair who find something in each other that they both need or the ins and outs of this battle that lasted like, a decade. There are several other prophecies at play once the battle begins, which is why Achilles’ mother tried to prevent him from joining the men. I wasn’t aware of the dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon, or the character of Hector so quite a lot of what occurred was a surprise to me. I did know going in that it was a tragedy and I was curious how this would play out given the book is told in the first person from the point of view of Patroclus, who does not survive until the end of the War of Troy.

The interpretation of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus has differed many times with some, such as this book, presenting it as a lasting romance. I haven’t read The Iliad other than a passage or two for analysis in high school but I’m aware that there is debate about whether or not the relationship is a homoerotic one or a simple warrior one. It seems that it was common for boys to experiment – they were raised with each other, trained with each other, slept together but that most of them still married or had salt/spear wives and had children. I enjoyed the journey for Achilles and Patroclus in here, finding friendship as boys and it developing into something where they couldn’t be without each other. Patroclus is often required in order to persuade Achilles, who is tormented about his prophecies and whether to choose glory or life. It’s interesting how Achilles is prophesised to be the greatest warrior ever, he’s the one they sought for battle, believing without him they wouldn’t or couldn’t win and yet….he often comes across as stubborn, petulant, sometimes even childish. He seems unable to cope when things don’t go his way and often ignores doing the right thing in order to ‘win’ or be seen as not backing down. In contrast, Patroclus who was presented as weak physically, unremarkable, perhaps even following in his simple mother’s footsteps, grows to learn interesting things and seems to view things around him in a clearer, more levelheaded way. Of course he wasn’t built up to be a great warrior from birth either, so it was interesting to think about nature versus nurture in relation to Achilles also.

I really enjoyed this. So much so that I wouldn’t mind finding a few other retellings – I’m not going to subject myself to Homer, even if it makes me a Philistine.


Book #148 of 2017

The Song Of Achilles was read as part of my participation in #TheReadingQuest Challenge, created and hosted by Aentee @ Read At Midnight, with artwork and illustrations by CW @ Read, Think, Ponder. It counted towards my character path, ticking off the category of read a book based on mythology. With that done, I only have one more category to go before I will complete my character path – read a book that contains magic. For this I have chosen A Gathering Of Shadows by V.E. Schwab. With only 5 days until the challenge ends, I anticipate completing that book and hopefully one other, which will most likely be The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas which was my middle square free choice read.

Here’s my updated character card. 10ex points added taking me to 70 total and another 35pts added to health for 352 pages read taking me to 285pts.

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