Genre: Adventure, Mythology, Fantasy, Romance, Fiction
Book Jacket Synopsis: “Achilles, ‘the best of all the Greeks,’ son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful – irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from him homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath. They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes 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, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.”
Review: This is the best adult fiction I’ve read since Euphoria and Room! What a tremendous first novel by Madeline Miller. I’ve always been interested in Greek mythology, but Miller breathes new life into this retelling of the story of Achilles. Given that she spent ten years working on this novel, the craftsmanship and detail should come as no surprise. While I was somewhat unfamiliar with Achilles’ story before reading this book, I knew from the very beginning that things couldn’t end well for the star-crossed lovers. Miller manages to write a novel that is equal parts romance and adventure, all while breathing life into a remarkable cast of characters. Patroclus is the real showstopper of the book, but I also loved reading about Thetis (Achilles’ goddess mother), Agamemnon (ruler of Mycenae and frequent source of conflict with Achilles), and Deidameia (mother of Pyrrhus). I was particularly impressed with Miller’s writing; she manages to be poetic and poignant without preaching or overstepping. I particularly loved how she tied the beginning and ending together with a very simple word: this.
“I found myself grinning until my cheeks hurt, my scalp prickling till I thought it might lift off my head. My tongue ran away from me, giddy with freedom. This, and this, and this, I said to him. I did not have to fear that I spoke too much. I did not have to worry that I was too slender, or too slow. This and this and this! I taught him how to skip stones, and he taught me how to carve wood. I could feel every nerve in my body, every brush of air against my skin.”
“At first it is strange. I am used to keeping him from her, to hoarding him for myself. But the memories well up like spring-water, faster than I can hold them back. They do not come as words, but like dreams, rising as scent from the rain-wet earth. This, I say. This and this. The way he ran. His eyes, solemn as an owl at lessons. This and this and this. So many moments of happiness, crowding forward.”
It’s beautiful, clean, emotive writing. I loved the short chapter format of The Song for Achilles, but felt that some of the middle chapters (particularly the ones focused on preparing for the war in Troy and the early years of the war) dragged; I would have preferred more chapters spent on the training Patroclus and Achilles received while living with Chiron, rather than the war. As a whole however, The Song for Achilles is an outstanding book and I can’t wait to read Miller’s second novel, Circe!