Let’s share the bookish quick facts first so you guys can have a refresher, then I’ll dive into my wonderfully trollable thoughts
Bookish Quick Facts:
- Title: The Song of Achilles
- Series; n/a
- Author: Madeline Miller
- Publisher & Release: Ecco, 2012
- Length: 384 pages
- Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ I mean I disliked the book and I disliked her premise but she’s a phenomenal writer
Here’s the synopsis from the back cover:
The legend begins…
Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.
When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice
Despite The Song of Achilles being wildly popular and appearing everywhere forever since it’s been published, I held off until I was bored and saw someone stating that they learned “a lot about mythology” from the book
I said good lord it can’t possibly be accurate to the legends, because first and foremost in the Illiad, Achilles and Patroclus were only described as close, and later as pederastic at best. Any ”lovers” interpretations came later on with societal change but will never be true to the Illiad. That to me automatically invalidates the entire premise unless you’re seeking to inject “love stories” into places where they didn’t exist, and are reading it for what it is. (I wouldn’t like the book from that angle either).
Friends or Pederasts?
When one man is described as gangly, ugly, gray, a wet blanket, etc, and the other is described as a golden boy, that’s a very typical Greek description of pederasts with the attractive one being the younger man. In the legends, Patroclus was older, so Miller had to make them roughly the same age to make it would work and seem less like socially acceptable pedophilia. Seeing as that she was loyal to that description, I think she was acknowledging the multiple ways that things could have been, but then apparently decided to make them gay (more in line with later variations).
At the end of the day, this is a “romance” and these are made up characters from a legend, so Miller can do what she wants with the mythology. I just don’t care for this reimagining of the myth.
If you want to read a more educated article about Achilles (a made up fictional character) and the debate of his sexuality throughout literature, here is a great article on it
Let’s talk about point of view
So more specifically about why I couldn’t get into this book, as soon as I see first person POV, if I can’t relate, I tune out. I tuned out Patroclus after a few chapters because I’m not a man, I’m not gay, and that’s also about the time I shut the audiobook off and grabbed the text so I could dissociate from his voice a bit. I can’t imagine a woman wanting to write this from first person POV, but to each her own. I do much better with stories in third person than first.
I’ve seen this book recommended for ages as young as 14 and there’s way too much explicit and drawn out sex scenes (m/m, m/f), for that age group. 100% 18+ on this one, which is sad because the rest of the book reads like something to be marketed towards teens, as in, fairly repetitive and basic in structure, plus very character based. I had to flip at least two pages to clear that first m/m scene.
That said, the characters are wet blankets
Patroclus has NO personality outside of Achilles, who has NO personality outside of Patroclus and his pride. I’m not even relating them to their Illiad descriptions. In The Song of Achilles, they have no personality. It’s also fairly clear to me that Thetis helped Patroclus become a hero at the end as not to dishonor Achilles, so I mean yeah he was brave but he just wanted the war to end and Achilles was going to hold everyone there for ever. I never felt drawn to either character at all except for when Patroclus was interested and practicing medicine.
Oh, there’s another point: Patroclus was obsessed with Achilles and we were told multiple times that he wasn’t interested in women, but he had no problem hauling off without a backwards thought and banging Achilles’ wife. Explain how that fit into Miller’s story or personification of her main character at all? If she had an idea this might eventually be marketed towards teens, I just, don’t get it. Smut sells though so 🤷♀️
Ok, let’s say a few positive things
I’m losing my train of thought. I do think Miller had a few good scenes, mostly the brutal ones about human sacrifices. I liked the atmosphere and her descriptions of the local scenery and people, water and waves, weather, food, etc, she has a good overall sense of setting.
I like how we spent some time in the medicine tent and in places other than the battle, but also if you’re going to write a romance, why pick this? The princes and kings spent an awful lot of time sitting around during the Trojan War (10 years went by awful fast in the book) so it made sense to talk about camp life and such, which is about the only place I was interested in the entire story. I also liked the old centaur.
To touch quickly on what I said up top about Miller being a phenomenal writer? If this wasn’t in first person POV and was less sexualized, I’d have personally like it a lot more. Miller has a distinctively readable style and handles tricky narrative situations surprisingly well.
I mean I’m somewhat Greek, I love legends and Mythology, but I am just not into Miller’s re-imaginings. I didn’t *love’ Circe either but I think she was at least more loyal to the myths in that one. If you want action, don’t read a romance, yeah yeah, but I never interpreted the Patroclus and Achilles story (and most don’t) as more than friendship, or based off the descriptions that even Miller was loyal to: pederasts.
Alright come at me, I’m ready to get trolled for this one 🤷♀️
Tl/DR: I would not read it again but I’m not going to deny that she’s got tricks
Thanks for checking out my rambling book thoughts on The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. I was gifted this book many years ago and finally picked it up. As always, all opinions are my own