Greece in the age of heroes, Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exciled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, 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’s 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.
After reading The Silence of the Girls (review here) and A Thousand Ships (review here), my appetite for Greek retellings was well and truly whetted. Ariadne came next (review here), that was last month and now, here we are with The Song of Achilles.
What to say about this book, a beautifully written retelling of Homer’s Iliad from the perspective of Patroclus. Detailing his childhood and the events that led him to be exciled and his meet and friendship with Achilles. The story is tenderly written exploring th love between these two young men, the fates of both and the inevitability of the prophecy.
I haven’t read Homer’s Iliad and different books on Troy explore different aspects, The Silence of the Girls places a romantic slant on the relationship between Achilles and Bresis whilst also acknowledging the closeness of Achilles and Patroclus. A Thousand Ships explores the women of Troy. In The Song of Achilles the central theme is the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles and it is portrayed as a passionate and long love affair, with a strong connection developing between the two as boys which strenghtens in adulthood.
The story thus is heartbreaking, made all the more devastating with the knowledge of how things will end. I was desperate for Achilles to relent, for Patroclus not to go to fight, for Achilles not to go after Hector and it was a measure of how well this book was written for me to feel so invested, so moved despite knowing what happens next.
I enjoyed the voice of Patroclus, his love with Achilles and his love of Bresis. The story was well told in this narrative and I liked the way it continued after the death of Patroclus into a sad and touching ending.
I know I am late to the party but if you enjoy the retellings of Greek myths and legends then you will definitely enjoy this one. If you haven’t then ventured into this genre yet then this book is a good place to start, beautifully written, moving, vivid, dramatic. I do think it has it all.
I’m tempted now by Homer’s Iliad, any thoughts or recommendations about the translation I should buy?
About the Author
Madeline Miller has a BA and MA from Brown University in Latin and Ancient Greek, and has been teaching both for the past nine years. She has also studied at the Yale School of Dramaa, specialising in adapting classical tales to a modern audience. The Song of Achilles was her first novel.