Monday, December 31, 2012

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

From Goodreads: Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. Achilles, 'best of all the Greeks', is everything Patroclus is not - strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess - and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative companionship gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles's mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale sea goddess with a hatred of mortals. Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

My Rating: 4 hearts 

Thoughts on the Novel: Told from the eyes of Patroclus, Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles follows the Greek hero Achilles from his childhood in Phthia to his death while fighting in the Trojan War. In the Iliad, Patroclus doesn’t have a huge role; but, his death at the hands of the Trojan Prince Hector is vital in turning the tide of the Trojan War in favour of the Greeks since it causes Achilles to put aside his wrath in order to get revenge. Here, Miller makes Patroclus the same age as Achilles – instead of being older like in the Iliad – and explicitly makes him Achilles’ lover so that the reader can understand why Achilles goes mad with grief once Patroclus dies.

My biggest hesitancy when reading The Song of Achilles was that I was concerned about how much the focus would be on Achilles’ and Patroclus’ sexual relationship rather than on things I would find more interesting – namely, the retelling of the Trojan War. While it was slightly annoying to read about the smitten Patroclus go on about Achilles’ beauty, there was actually only one sexual scene (though there were a couple of instances where physical intimacy is alluded to).

I liked that Miller chose to make Patroclus her narrator because it really highlighted the differences between him and Achilles. While Achilles is destined for greatness even before birth, Patroclus isn’t even close to being a great warrior. But, unlike the demi-god Achilles who seems to be incapable of caring for anyone other than Patroclus, the merely ordinary Patroclus is continually concerned about the welfare of others.

I also liked how Miller incorporated foreshadowing into her novel. For those who have read the Iliad, the foreshadowing in The Song of Achilles lends an element of tragedy to the novel because while Achilles hopes that he’ll get a happy ending and Patroclus repeatedly wonders how he’ll survive after Achilles’ death, we know the fates of both Patroclus and Achilles. My favourite instance of foreshadowing though would have to be the conversation between Neoptolemus (nicknamed Pyrrhus), the arrogant son of Achilles, and Odysseus where Odysseus says that he might end up becoming more famous than Pyrrhus in the future. The crafty Odysseus of course will eventually come up with the idea of the Trojan Horse and star in his own adventure in the Odyssey whereas Pyrrhus* remains unknown to those unfamiliar with the story of the Trojan War. 

Although kind of sappy at certain moments – particularly when Patroclus is younger – and taking some time to reach the point involving Troy, The Song of Achilles is a novel that’s easy to read if you enjoy Greek mythology or want to learn more about Achilles without having to read classical works.

The Song of Achilles was released in September 2011 by Bloomsbury Publishing. 

Comments About the Cover: It’s so hard to tell what’s on the cover! I think it’s a breastplate … but I could be wrong.  

*It was prophesied that Troy wouldn’t fall until the son of Achilles came to fight against the Trojans.

4 comments:

  1. Because I'm a nerd, I loved reading the Illiad but I was never a fan of Achilles. I loved Hecktor more so I'm curious to see if this book will change my pov on Achilles at all. I wasn't too considered about the sexual context but thanks for the heads up. Glad you enjoyed it, Z! I hope to pick it up for 2013.

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  2. I've read lots of Greek mythology, but not enough of it! I think I'll definitely have to check this one out, even though Achilles has never been one of my favorites. This book seems really well written, despite some problems you had. I'm glad you liked it overall, Zahida! Wonderful review. :)

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  3. Huh, well that's an interesting take on the myth! I think I would enjoy this, actually. I'm intrigued to say the least! Thanks for putting this one on my radar!!

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  4. I think you're right about that being a breastplate on the cover. :) And I've seen buzz surrounding this book quite a bit, although I've never felt a huge desire to pick it up. I'll definitely reconsider though with your positive review and the promise of fascinating Greek mythology. :)

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