The Song of Achilles is one of those books. The books you’ve heard so many amazing, gushy things about that you find yourself experiencing the completely normal reaction of: well, it can’t possibly be that good.
Friends, I’m here to tell you, this book is that good.
If you’re looking for a perfect blend of history, mythology, action, romance and crush your heart into a sad, bloody, pulpy mess, then this, right here, is the ticket.
Who, What, Where?
The Song of Achilles is a greatly expanded and more in-depth retelling of Homer’s epic poem, The Iliad. Our protagonist is Patroclus, an exiled young prince sent to live in nearby Thessaly. It’s here that Patroclus befriends the beautiful, demi-god prince Achilles. Yep, you know the one – as in, should have invested in heel protective sandals. The two boys grow up together, developing a special relationship which eventually evolves into something more (*spoiler* it’s L-O-V-E). However, when Helen, wife of Spartan King Menelaus is “kidnapped” by the Trojans, Achilles is called to fight in the coming war. The problem is, there’s a prophecy that he’s to die on the battlefield. Hello, tragedy.
Why You Should Read this Book
Attention to Detail
There is so much love in this book. So much. The attention to detail is just staggering – places, names, music, weapons, myths, it’s mind bogglingly wonderful, but because of the simplistic style of the prose, it rarely feels overwhelming. If I’d been assigned books like this during my history studies, it would have made things so much more enjoyable. This is a classics teacher using their powers for good! If you read books to get away from the everyday and visit somewhere else for a little while, this is the perfect choice.
I’ll admit, I knew nothing about Patroclus when this book started. I was like, who the hell is this scrawny ass kid that I’m stuck inside the head of? By the end of the book, I wanted to cuddle him, stroke his hair and tell him it was all going to be okay, creepy or not. Patroclus starts out as a quieter character, even perceptibly weak, so it’s easy to dismiss him as a mere sidekick. But if we’ve learned anything from Samwise Gamgee, hobbit and gardener extraordinaire, it’s that you don’t have to kick ass with a sword to be a hero. Sidekicks are the real MVPs. Patroclus is brave, compassionate, knows how to play to his strengths, and is just generally one of those characters you can’t help but love because of his pure heart.
Then there’s Achilles. Ah, Achilles. I have a complicated relationship with this one. Achilles begins the book as a reasonably likeable character – he’s kind to Patroclus and there’s a good deal of emotional depth in regards to how he thinks about his destiny. And then…he gets older. And arrogant. And proud. And stubborn. It’s NOT a good combination, leaving him looking like a bit of an ass. He’ll make you want to yell and throw things but despite this, I can’t deny that Miller’s written him well.
Aside from Achilles and Patroclus, there are also a couple of great side characters. Some of these include Odysseus, the smooth-talking king of Ithaca (and hero of Homer’s Odyessy) and Briseis, a trojan slave captured during the war who forms a close bond with Patroclus. Achilles mother, the (angry, judgy) sea goddess, Thetis, despite her role as a significant romantic obstacle, is also memorable. Each serves to add to the richness of the story in different ways but without ever stealing the limelight.
All Aboard the Sinking Ship
One of the best parts of TSoA is the beautifully written relationship between its two leads, which I shipped right to novel’s bitter end (what can I say, I’m a glutton for punishment). It’s developed gradually from friends to lovers over a period of several years, with all the associated emotions. P & A are vastly different but they complement each other perfectly, their contrasting personalities providing balance to the story. They’re completely honest with each other and in the face of that, accept the other for exactly who he is and what he’s done. One of Achilles most redeeming qualities is just how much he cares for Patroclus, and through Patroclus’ eyes, even in the face of everything he’s done, we see the good in Achilles. The pair share secrets, climb trees, gaze at the stars, and fall asleep wrapped in each other’s’ arms.
Prepare yourself for much ‘awww’-ing.
It’ll Make you Feel Things
This book. Honestly. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything when I say that this is a Greek tragedy. Get ready to either (a) collapse into a puddle of tears or (b) sit on the end of your bed wondering whether there’s enough joy in the world to fill the hole of despair now taking up residence in your chest where your heart used to be. There is no third option. You know it’s coming and it still feels like being run over by a speeding bus (cool it, Keanu Reeves).
Why You Might Want to Skip it
It’s All About the Characters
Even with its dramatic subject nature, The Song of Achilles is definitely a slower build novel. At its heart, this is a book about the relationship between two people. While there’s certainly war, gods and prophecies, most of the novel is devoted to Patroclus and Achilles’ growth as people (for better and worse) and the strength of their relationship. The later parts of the novel do showcase some larger scale drama but you need to have the patience to make it through to the emotional pay off. If you aren’t interested in slower, character-based books, this isn’t for you (me, I loved every conversation).
0 to 100
HOWEVER, this slower pace rapidly increases in the climax of the novel but not necessarily for the better. There’s a heartbreaking tipping point towards the end of the novel which sets several events into motion. Unfortunately, after this “thing” happens, the plot makes a mad dash for the finish line in a way that causes emotional whiplash. Bonus points to Miller, though, for being able to bring it back in time for the last pages to leave a lasting impression.
Who Are You Again?
A warning. This is ancient Greek history and mythology. There are A LOT of characters, many with long or similar sounding names who pop up infrequently without heaps of background. There will be moments of, now who the hell is this guy again?
Basically, if you love Greek history and mythology, epic battles, great character development, and wonderfully written romance, get that butt into gear and read this book. Now.
* In my June wrap up, I gave this book 4.8 stars but I now realise that’s completely stupid and I’ve just rounded the damn thing up, as it should be. Half stars or full stars Ashley, you have rules for a reason.