Title: The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Historical Fiction, LGBT Fiction, Ancient Greece, Mythology
Stars: *** (3.5/5)
Summary: It is a retelling of parts from the Iliad from the point of view of Patroclus, a minor character in Homer’s epic. Patroclus, an exiled prince, was shipped to live and train as a soldier under another king. There he met prince Achilles; they become friends and fall in love. They train and grow up together before setting out on an adventure that will lead them to their epic tragic end at the walls of Troy.
Review: I would describe this novel as a guilty pleasure (and this is why this review was so difficult).
Some aspects of this novel were very simplistic, like the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. Their interactions seemed shallow and, even after ten years being with each other every day at the walls of Troy, they didn’t seem to know each other better than when they were youths. There were also moments where it seemed like Miller was placing 21st century sexual standards on the ancient Greek society. Come on, the boys waiting until they were 16 to do more than just kiss once but yet all their friends the same age have been bedding girls for years? The reason given for their relationship not progressing quicker once they moved into the mountains wasn’t satisfactory. The characters seem like a shallow reflection of what they could have been. Patroclus couldn’t stop gushing about how perfect Achilles was, instead I would have expected him better than anyone to know his flaws but be forgiving. At least that was how I’ve viewed their relationship prior to reading this novel. Odysseus and other characters also seem without depths.
The relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is sweet; their devotion to each other is astonishing and makes the pain of loss the more painful. And this is also why it is a guilty pleasure. I liked this sweetness between them where most their complications came from the outside. This isn’t what I usually like but I still couldn’t help myself, their romance was just so adorable (and I will from now on deny ever writing those words even as they remain for eternity floating through the internet).
Miller is an amazing storyteller, great descriptions of battle scenes and political intrigue. However, there didn’t seem to be enough of those. Patroclus didn’t fight much and even when on the battlefield, he spent the majority of his time protected by Achilles (meaning he ended up watching Achilles fighting only).
Overall, this novel misses the mark to be regarded as the next Mary Renault (as some reviewers have heralded). Her words lack Renault’s poetry and story lacks the depth of characters and complexity. Renault build myth and relationships into an indistinguishable whole while Miller’s was a bit choppy, almost like two parallel stories instead of an interwoven one. But please don’t get me wrong, the story was beautiful, heart wrenching, and bittersweet (I cried even though I knew how it was going to end); the disagreements and politics between the kings presented beautifully. I will surely read anything else she writes gladly. It just lacked so much that made Renault phenomenal. A good book in its own right but please, no comparison to the greats.