Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

TheSongOfAchillesCoverSynopsis: Set in Ancient Greece, Patroclus is an exiled prince. Achilles, the son of a goddess and a king, befriends him, and the two boys form a friendship, which turns into love. Trained by the centaur Chiron, Achilles decides to fight in the legendary Trojan War, and Patroclus follows. A re-telling of Homer’s classic, The Iliad.

 Review: I really enjoyed The Song of Achilles. It was very different from what I typically read, and that was a good thing.

The Song of Achilles was the July selection for the Hype or Like Friday group on Goodreads, and thank goodness we got a book I actually liked this month! And the more I think about the book and the plot and characters, the more I like it.

Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles brings to life the ancient tale of The Iliad. A retelling of sorts, with plots taken from various stories, ancient Greece is brought to life with all of its gods and goddesses, centaurs and warriors, lovers and enemies.

 

“Our world was one of blood, and the honor it won; only cowards did not fight.  For a prince there was no choice. You warred and won, or warred and died.”

 

Before I get into my review, I just want to say that I have not read The Iliad. I’ve read The Odyssey, but that’s the extent of anything I’ve read about ancient Greece. I have however, travelled to Athens and various Greek Isles (Crete, Santorini, Mykonos, and Rhodes) and also Ephesus, so it was easy for me to picture the landscape and setting of the novel. Since I have not yet read The Iliad, I can’t comment on comparisons to that piece of literature.

About 75 pages into the book I had to laugh. I had not realized that the movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt as Achilles, was based on The Iliad. Definitely a face palm moment. I have seen Troy, and actually own a copy of the movie, so I’ll be watching that one again soon, once I read The Iliad.

But back to The Song of Achilles.

Our two main characters are Patroclus and Achilles. Patroclus narrates the book, and he’s a fine narrator. He was a good choice to narrate the book, as while he is near a lot of the action, he is for the most part a bystander, and so sees a lot more than one who is involved in all of the action. He is a likeable hero, but I wanted him to run far, far away from Achilles, which I don’t think was the author’s intention.

Poor Patroclus. Falling in love with the wrong guy. Achilles is kind of a jerk. And he only does what he wants to do. Yes, he’s a half-god (his mother is the sea goddess Thetis), but Madeline Miller never lets us into Achilles’ head to see what he’s thinking. We only see him through the eyes of Patroclus, who is so enamored and in love with Achilles, that to me, the reader, I was left feeling Achilles was beautiful but foolish. Perhaps that is the point.

The romance was believable, I can’t comment on whether or not Homer intended this as romance or friendship, but it is romance in this book, and it made sense. As much as I wished Patroclus would ditch Achilles for someone nicer, Achilles did truly love Patroclus. I just wish Patroclus had stood up for himself far sooner. I felt he just let Achilles walk all over him at times.

One of the biggest issues I had with the book was that Achilles never became human to me. He stayed a mythical being, shrouded in mystery. Untouchable. I wanted a bit more insight into Achilles and how he thought. This may be due to the fact that I didn’t really know his story going in. I don’t remember Troy all that well, except for how beautiful Brad Pitt was in the movie, and honestly the only thing I could recall about Achilles was his heel. And I think I know that more for the medical term than for anything actually involving Achilles.

I really enjoyed the earlier sections of the book, where Patroclus and Achilles stay with the centaur Chiron, and are trained in medicine and various other things. I wish Patroclus and Achilles had just stayed with Chiron. But no, they had to venture into the Trojan War. It was kind of like watching Titanic and hoping the boat would just alter course. But nope.

The Trojan War sections were interesting. Filled with many characters, I admit to having a huge crush on Hector. I really have no idea why, I just really like his character, at least in this book. And he really only appears very briefly. I’m interested to read Homer’s The Iliad, to see how he is portrayed in that story.

In terms of other characters I enjoyed, I liked Achilles’ mother, Thetis, the sea goddess. She is terrifying and electric. I also liked Briseis, the girl that Achilles rescues at the request of Patroclus. Another character I was interested by was Odysseus, the same Odysseus who is in The Odyssey by Homer. Guess I’m due for a reread!

One thing that really struck me while reading is how much bloodshed happened (and does still happen today) because of stubborn men. Because of hubris. I just love that word. It means “excessive pride or self-confidence”, and I was thrilled to see it mentioned in this book.

I think The Song of Achilles would make a good book club choice. It’s an interesting historical fiction tale, with many characters to discuss, and decisions to debate.

I recommend this book to those who like historical fiction, centaurs, tales of heroic men and epic stories. It was definitely not my usual read, as my historical fiction doesn’t typically go back this far, but I did truly enjoy the book and I’m glad that I read it. In any event, it is making me want to read The Iliad, and that can only be a good thing. It’s also made me want to reread The Odyssey, and I never thought I would ever say that.

Bottom Line: Excellent historical fiction with memorable characters. I just wish we had gotten more insight to Achilles. The Song of Achilles gets a definite LIKE from me for Hype or Like Friday!

Links to The Song of Achilles on Goodreads and Amazon.

Links to The Iliad on Goodreads and Amazon.

Links to The Odyssey on Goodreads and Amazon.

Link to the movie Troy on Amazon.

Have you read The Song of Achilles? Does this sound like an interesting read or are you intimidated by the Ancient Greece setting and nods to Homer?


17 thoughts on “Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

  1. Awesome review! I agree with everything you wrote here. We did not get enough of Hector or the divine intervention of the gods, but I got enough that I still felt satisfied. I almost used the same quote as you. I really loved all the quotes in this book. I posted my Rave Review. This book really blew me away. As a fan, I felt as though Miller did Homer justice. You’re so right about Achilles, which is why I loved that Miller chose Patroclus as the narrator. He’s so god-like that he’s never really thought of much as human. He has this presence about him that has always given me chills. I absolutely adore him even though he’s an ass. He really isn’t a likable character. Patroclus and Briseis are and I think they sort of humanize him in their own way through their love of Achillles. They’re my favorite love triangle of them all. Achilles and Briseis had referred to each other as husband and wife, but they never married. That’s why I liked how Miller incorporated this into the story. I think she wanted you to see Achilles’ devotion to Patroclus, which is why he kept saying no about it in this book. I added some nerdy Greek history in my review. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Your review was excellent. I’ll comment on that in a bit.
      I’m really glad to hear that you think Miller did Homer justice. I really can’t wait to start The Iliad, hopefully I can start it tonight/this weekend!
      The whole Patroclus – Briseis – Achilles triangle was really well done. It would be interesting to read a book from Briseis’ point of view.
      It’s such a sad story. So powerful! I’m really hoping that Achilles feels more real to me in The Iliad.
      I love how Miller took such an intimidating book and made it relatable to a modern audience and also made The Iliad a “must read”. I think I’m honestly more excited to read The Iliad than the new HP book…. !

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you! I hope you love The Iliad. I think you will since it’s the same story. You get even more information from the original and you get more Hector! 🤗 I’d love to hear the war from Briseis’ POV. The three of them are my favorite part of both stories. I do, too! I hope a lot of people who were intimidated by The Iliad have decided to read it because of this book. I’m wondering if we’ll even like the new HP book since it’s a script. I don’t typically like reading scripts, but I hope it’s easer to read. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I started The Iliad last night (not very far into it yet), and reading The Song of Achilles has definitely helped me understand what is going on. Since it starts off right away, with really no introduction to characters or events, I’m really glad I read Song of Achilles first!
          Yeah I’m wondering how the script will read too. Will it just be a straight transcript of the play, or will there be novelized bits in it. I wonder. I pre-ordered my copy off Amazon (no midnight release party for me!), so I won’t be getting my copy until Tuesday or Wednesday and then I can start it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Did you read the intro about how the war started or did you dive right into Book One with Achilles and Agamemnon arguing? I always go right to Book One because I’ve read it so many times. I would recommend The Song of Achilles first for anyone who wants to read The Iliad. It really gives you some context up front, and The Iliad also gives you more context about the gods and Hector and the fight between Paris and Menelaus, which is so good. I can’t wait to see what you think of The Iliad. I ordered a Kindle copy cause I’m impatient, so I’ll know tomorrow if HP is script format or somewhat adapted to fit a novel format. I hope it’s not just a straight up play.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I skipped the intro. I think I’ll go back and read it later, once I’m finished. I already peeked at the end and had to double check online that The Iliad really ends at that point… ! I was thinking that can’t be the end, Achilles is still alive! That just makes me even more impressed with Song of Achilles.

              Liked by 1 person

              1. Yeah, the intro gives more context on how it started and everything that happened leading up to the opening of Book One. Yes, that is true. Achilles is mentioned in The Odyssey. He returns to Troy after Hector’s funeral since he allowed Priam to give him a proper burial. I always add the part about how he died when talking about The Iliad since it’s the story of Achilles. I feel like it’s almost not complete without mentioning that part. He didn’t die in battle, true to the prophecy, so I think that’s what makes his story so interesting for me. I’ve studied so much Greek and Roman mythology sometimes I forget it’s not in there because I lump Homer’s works together. You’ll have to read The Odyssey once you’re finished with The Iliad. Odysseus is a very interesting character and so is his story cause he’s the opposite of Achilles as far as homecoming vs glory. And they’re much different in terms of personality. I’ve always had a certain fondness for Odysseus. Miller did such a good job with this book. She took the story of The Iliad and combined the actual mythology and history behind each character. I’m seriously beyond impressed.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. I really like your honesty in this book review. It made me think more about my days as an English major. One part of the major that was designed to weed out students who couldn’t hack it was a requirement that let you choose between two classes: one was with a wacky professor I’d had before and didn’t enjoy. The other was Ancient Greek lit. Both teachers were known for being insurmountable giants who would break you. I went with the lesser known evil. I remember we had to learn all the Greek AND Roman gods, but that was easy for me to forget. I remember almost nothing else about the class. I hate when classes don’t build on what you’ve learned and instead jump from thing to thing. We started with about 30 students, and there may have been a dozen of us in the end. I passed *whew*

    Doesn’t it drive you absolutely bonkers that to show the audience he’s “some kind of foreign” that Brad Pitt uses a crappy British accent? Don’t get me wrong; I’m guilty, too! I love Ever After, a Cinderella re-telling with Drew Barrymore. Took me years to actually notice that the crappy British accents were more ridiculous than I originally thought because the movie is supposed to be set in…wait for it…FRANCE.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks!
      Wow learning all the Greek & Roman gods sounds like a TON of work!! I can’t keep them straight at all, although this book has helped me with the few it mentions. Glad to hear you passed the class. Good job!
      I need to re-watch Troy. I don’t remember the accent, but it has been a long time since I’ve seen it, and I’ll be listening for it 🙂
      And good point about Ever After. One of my favorites!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh! And I forgot to mention: many soldiers during this time had male lovers. It was encouraged in the military so the soldiers would feel much more driven to care for each other during times of battle, the same reason the U.S. did not (does not-ish) want women in battle.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Loved your review! I hope you enjoy The Iliad. I think it would be interesting for me to read it, too, but it’s a winter read so it’ll have to wait until December!
    Oh gosh, Achilles was such a jerk. I absolutely agree on Achille’s demi-God status that never goes away, leaving a barrier between him and the reader. I would have loved to see more of his human side, but he remained that distant hero figure all along. Their young years and Chiron’s training were the best parts for me, the war just bored me to death. I even thought about not finishing it…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I just started The Iliad last night and am already finding it easier to understand because I’m already familiar with the characters and plot.
      Oh wow, not finishing it! I was too invested in Patroclus to not finish. I wanted to see it through, and you could just sense something bad was going to happen. I really wanted Achilles to snap out of it and do the right thing, but nope.

      Like

  5. Hmmm, your review makes a case for me to pick this up. Very detailed, and also picking up on the nuances well.
    Far as I remember, Achilles was a headstrong kind of figure even in Troy. So maybe the author is taking it from there. Or maybe, he’s like that in Iliad too. But seriously, retelling a classic like that calls for great courage, won’t you say?

    Liked by 1 person

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