Written by: Madeline Miller
Published by: Bloomsbury
Release date: September 20th 2011
Genres: Adult, Historical Fantasy, LGBTQ, Retelling, Romance
Buy: B&N, Amazon, Book Depository
Add on: Goodreads
Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper - despite the displeasure of Achilles' mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.
But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
**PLEASE NOTE** If you are not familiar with The Iliad and/or the Trojan War, this review may contain some (vague-ish, but I’m bad at judging these things, so maybe not-so-vague) spoilers. But considering that The Iliad was written nearly 3,000 years ago, I’m not putting spoiler-cuts anywhere. For what it’s worth, though, knowing the basic story beforehand does not at all influence its impact and, in fact, might even enhance it. Just saying.
I was originally not going to review this book. Ever. After finishing it, I was a mess. The ugly-crying was real, guys. It was full-on, shut-myself-in-my-room, ruined-for-the-rest-of-the-day real.
Um, I also just realized the main reason I’m writing this review is because I’m desperate to push this book on as many people as I can, so if you could just… go ahead and forget that previous paragraph… that would be awesome. Thanks. 😁
Yeah, so, anyway… The Song of Achilles is sunshine and rainbows and happiness, and you should read it!!!
Most of that sentence is a lie. The truth? You should read it.
Another truth: If I hadn’t heard such good things about The Song of Achilles from people I trust, I would have been hesitant to pick it up. A retelling of The Iliad? Ummmmm… First off, I did not have a good experience reading The Iliad in high school (ugh, the torture), so I wasn’t exactly predisposed to be excited about reading a retelling of it. It sounds to me like it could be super dense… and probably not very fun to read. The story is not a terribly happy one, and the characters are these massively “heroic” figures (not, like, oh he’s such a hero for doing that amazingly brave and selfless thing; they’re Greek Heroes, capital H) whom I have a hard time imagining as real people — or, at least, I had a hard time doing so, before I read this book.
If you’re at all familiar with The Iliad and/or the Trojan War, you know what this book is about, and you probably know the main points of the story, including its ending. Yeah, The Song of Achilles is not made of happiness and rainbows — but I feel like that’s the reason it works so well. The story is told with incredible gravity, with an ever-present pull toward its tragic ending, and it is beautiful. The characters are massively heroic figures — demigods and kings and generals — but this book shows the human sides of them, which were impossible for me to imagine, before. The Song of Achilles takes a sweeping epic and focuses it on two characters in a way that I absolutely adored.
I will never think of Achilles and Patroclus the same way again. The Song of Achilles is their story, more than a retelling of The Iliad or the Trojan War. It’s the story of their friendship, their romance, their growth into men who believed in each other, men who were flawed but supported each other, men who would die for each other.
And yes, as I’ve mentioned a couple times, the ending is soul-destroying. But you know what? It’s also so incredibly uplifting. I don’t know how Miller did it, but the conclusion of this book is a flawless blend of utter tragedy and complete, hopeful perfection.
If you are at all into Greek mythology/The Iliad or historical fiction (despite its mythological elements, it does almost read like historical fiction), if you like a good tragic romance, and/or if you just need a good cry, pick up this book. You will not be disappointed.
PS. I read this as an audiobook — in fact, it was one of the first books I’ve read via audio that wasn’t a re-read. I usually don’t like to read a book this way, because I want my own imagination to do with the voices what it will. That said, I ended up listening to a sample of the audio on a whim, and was sold in about 15 seconds. The narrator is fantastic. So, if you’re into audiobooks, I highly recommend it.