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The Song of Achilles
by Madeline Miller

In this retelling of The Iliad, Madeline Miller plucks the pivotal but relatively minor Patroclus from Homer’s verses as the tale’s new star. A disappointment to his father, as a child Patroclus is thought to be simpleminded and softhearted – traits rarely admired amongst the Greeks. When he accidentally kills another boy, and isn’t clever enough to hide or justify the deed, his father sends him into exile. Patroclus is sent to live in the kingdom of Phythia. Here, he meets and falls in love with Greek’s golden boy, Achilles. He becomes Achilles’ constant companion, earning Patroclus the enmity of Achilles’ goddess mother Thetis, but wherever she sends her son, Patroclus will follow – even to the battlefields of Troy.

The story’s greatest strength is definitely the writing, which is lyrical and dramatic. This is a new, fresh perspective on the story, one that really explores the emotions behind each character. I’m not just talking about the Achilles/Patroclus relationship, which evolves into full-blown romantic love. We see Chiron as a tragic figure, a centaur (and yes, in this version he *is* half-horse, half-man) who trains one hero after another, only to see them die in battle. Odysseus is clever as always, but the deep love he feels for his wife Penelope seems alien to his fellow kings, who can’t muster such a strong passion for their own wives. The one character who really suffers is Agamemnon – this version of him is arrogant and rude, without any of the usual heroics to make him tolerable.

As others have mentioned, the one drawback here is that the events of the Trojan War don’t begin until the final third of the book, and they seem to be rushed through as quickly as possible. As a result, Achilles’ transition from affectionate, kindhearted lover to a proud, vicious slayer is really sudden, almost jarring. But no matter – it’s still an incredibly engrossing story that brings the characters of The Iliad vividly to life.

4.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about The Song of Achilles, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 28th, 2012 04:45 am (UTC)
Great review. I've been considering whether I should pick this one up, and I think this has sold me. I like the idea of a character driven tale of two boys growing up together, which is what this sounds like.
May. 28th, 2012 04:26 pm (UTC)
It really is enjoyable! The only real criticism I had was that the story glosses over the Trojan War so much. Since finishing The Song of Achilles, I've gone back and re-read The Iliad, and now that I was watching for it the 'romantic' feelings of Achilles for Patroclus jump out a lot more. It really spun the story in a new way for me!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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