Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Published: Harper Collins, 2012
Where I Got It: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review.
I'm really not even sure where to begin with this review. As many of you know, I am a major fan of the classics. But a lot of them really intimidate me. Especially the Greeks. A few blogs I personally follow recently read The Iliad and The Odyssey and I really wanted to read them, but I was really scared. Then the opportunity to review this book, which is a modern retelling of The Iliad, came up. Needless to say I jumped on it and I am so glad that I did.
This book tells the story of The Iliad in novel form, which makes it incredibly accessible to readers who are unfamiliar with Homer or are just intimidated by it. Naturally, Miller had to take some creative license, but she did the research to make sure that she was at least in the spirit of the story. Miller chose to tell the story from the perspective of Patroclus, who was Achilles companion/lover. Patroclus was a very minor character in the original, so this was a very interesting choice for narrator, but I think it was spot on for telling a greater story about Achilles from someone very close to him.
The story starts off with Patroclus as a young boy witnessing the ceremony in which Helen (the face that launched a thousand ships) became betrothed to Menelaus. One thing leads to another and Patroclus finds himself in Phthia, where he soon meets young Achilles. They soon become companions. Then they become more than companions. Achilles's mother, Thetis, a sea-nymph, does not like Patroclus one bit. Achilles goes off for training and Patroclus soon follows. Eventually they find themselves called upon to fight in the war once Paris and Helen sneak off to Troy. Miller does a good job of developing life in the Greek camps on the island of Troy, but does not get bogged down in the fact that ten years pass while they're on the island. Then there are a few climactic battle scenes and the war ends.
I thought this book was exquisitely done. Miller's choice of Patroclus as the narrator was perfect. Because he is such a minor character in The Iliad, she was able to fully develop his personality. As Achilles's lover, Patroclus was able to give the reader a more human look at one of the most famous heroes of all time. The prospect of becoming a hero for all time surely changes a person, right? Right. And Patroclus is able to be sympathetic but also able to call it like he sees it when Achilles gets out of hand. Miller develops this dynamic into something of a beautiful love story of two individuals who truly and purely appreciate each other, a facet of the story that stands out very strongly in my mind.
Bottom Line: I highly recommend this book for people who are intimidated by Homer and are looking for an introduction before diving right in; for people who are looking for a good love story with a fair bit of action and adventure; and for people who really liked Homer and want something else.