Rating: 5/5 stars.
We despise spoilers. We avoid them at all costs, cover them with spoiler tags, and castigate those who share them. But a great book is one that we can appreciate even when we already know the ending. That’s how it was with The Song of Achilles: I knew the fates of the characters beforehand, but no matter how much I tried to brace myself, the last few chapters still broke my heart in the best possible way.
What had Deidameia thought would happen, I wondered, when she had her women dance for me? Had she really thought I would not know him? I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.
Madeline Miller retells the Trojan War through Patroclus’s point of view. The book begins with his childhood, and it captures almost all of his life. Miller takes us from his exile from his own land to when he meets Achilles, to their gradual and growing friendship, to when they embark on the war together. She incorporates various historical qualities and characters such as the battle strategies of the time period and Thetis’s difficult relationship with her own son. The Song of Achilles will please those searching for a retelling of the Iliad as well as those who want a fresh take on Patroclus and Achille’s relationship.
Can we all take a collective moment to appreciate the beautiful bond between Patroclus and Achilles? Their relationship developed in the most sincere, realistic, and wonderful way. Miller did not bypass the societal standards of the Trojan War period, rather, she used them to strengthen an already solid friendship. The best and worst part was that I knew how it was going to end – heck, anyone who has learned about the Trojan War or Achilles knows – but my prior knowledge could not stop the waterfall of tears that flooded my face upon the book’s conclusion. Patroclus’s kind heart, Achille’s gumption and glory, and the prophecy that hung over them captured me and held my heart captive. Instead of releasing my emotions at the end, Miller tore them apart, and I enjoyed every second of it.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death. “Yes,” I whispered. “Yes.”
Miller’s writing transported me. It took her ten years to write this and the effort she put into her research shows; the development of Patroclus and Achilles and all of the different events in the story exemplifies her passion for classics. Achilles, Patroclus, and even side characters like Thetis and Briseis received human qualities that allowed them to remain true to their portrayals in history while making them easier to relate to at the same time. Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship won me over and made me cry, but this book succeeds in several other areas as well, like its description of settings and battles.
Highly recommended for history/classic buffs or anyone searching for a story with a romance that will leave you breathless. It left me sobbing and gasping for breath at 8 AM in the main lobby of my college dorm, and I am confident it will evoke a similar reaction in other readers who come across it.