The Song of Achilles
Author: Madeline Miller
Length: 11 hours
Narrator: Frazer Douglas
Original Publication Date: 2011
Genre(s): Historical fiction, Greek mythology, LGBT
“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
Patroclus is a nobody in Greece – an unextraordinary boy, a disappointing son to a King. After a tragic accident, Patroclus is exiled to the kingdom of Phthia, expected to train and become a member of Phthia’s army in exchange for food and shelter. There, he meets and catches the eye of Prince Achilles – son of the king and child of a goddess. Achilles is everything Patroclus is not: strong, beautiful, charismatic. He’s prophesized as being Aristos Achaion – best of all the Greeks. So when war breaks out between Greece and Troy, of course Achilles must go. And where Achilles goes, so, too, does Patroclus. He will always follow.
I heard about this book long before I joined TikTok but could never be swayed to read it. Even after joining TikTok and having it thrown in my face, still I resisted. But then my friend Heather (whom you all know by now if you follow my reviews) read it and cried over it and loved it, and finally I was convinced. If Heather likes it, I’ll like it. The streak has yet to be broken.
As an English major, you know I’ve read the classics including The Iliad and The Odyssey. In high school I read Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and adored it. I’m no stranger to Greek myths, or clever retellings and adaptations of Greek myths, so it was very easy to fall into the narrative of The Song of Achilles. The novel is narrated by Patroclus and is told in first-person POV. The novel spans many years of Patroclus’s and Achilles’s lives: in the beginning, they are young boys; by the end of the story, they are in their late twenties. The story does not feel long or arduous, though – rather I felt like I never wanted the novel to end, that there was never enough time for Patroclus and Achilles and, in turn, not enough time we get to spend as readers with them. It’s fascinating going into a book like this and knowing exactly how it ends, yet still loving every second of it and yearning for a different outcome. That in and of itself made for a unique reading experience. But on top of that, and in general, this is just a lovely book that I want to read again and again.
I love books where the narrator of the story is more a side character than the main character. Patroclus is a “nobody” and Achilles is the star of the show, so seeing everything from Patroclus’s point of view is unique and, in my opinion, more enriching than if the story were to have been told by Achilles. Kind of like how The Great Gatsby is told from Nick’s perspective instead of Gatsby’s, the titular character and focal point of the story. Things happen around Nick and those are the things we as readers care about – seeing them through Nick’s eyes. That’s how I felt reading The Song of Achilles. That’s not to say that things don’t happen to Patroclus (or Nick in Gatsby), but those events are more like side stories in the greater narrative. I’m not sure I’m explaining this as well as I’d hope to, but what I’m trying to say is, I love reading novels like this. I absolutely love Patroclus with my whole heart and am so glad Miller wrote this from his perspective instead of Achilles’s. Though yes, Achilles is beautiful and strong and a literal demigod, Patroclus is someone I can relate to: average-looking, gentle, quiet, contemplative, and kind – someone people often underestimate. I love all these things about him, especially as a man in the age of Heroes where masculinity and strength were often prized above all. I love that he is different.
“[Achilles] would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death.”
I also like how Miller made Achilles a more sympathetic character. I think in reading the myths, Achilles comes off strongly as an egocentric man-baby who pouts when things don’t go his way. Those traits are still shown in SOA, but we’re also shown a more human, more sympathetic side to him as well. Because we all know there’s more than one side to a person, and though the son of a goddess, Achilles is still part-human. Do I love him as much as Patroclus? No, but that’s okay. I still loved him, even if it was mostly because Patroclus loved him. And speaking of, I really loved the way Miller wrote intimate scenes between Patroclus and Achilles. None of these scenes are in-your-face graphic or uncomfortable – they’re intimate and sweet and truly romantic. The gradual and sweeping love story between these two characters is beautiful.
This book is so well-written. The characters, taken from actual Greek myths, are written with care and a deep understanding of these well-known characters. The pacing is perfect. The story is never boring. To be frank, even if you know how the story ends, it’s still going to crush you and make you sob. I won’t say too much about it, but after Patroclus’s death, the way Miller chose to continue writing the story was just too much for this sensitive reader. I was actually listening to the audiobook while working (at home, thankfully) and just started sobbing. I couldn’t focus on my work until I finished the book. I was a wreck, and thinking about it makes me want to cry again. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
If I were going to hug a book, it would be this one. I’m honestly sad I don’t have a physical copy because I absolutely would hug it. If you love Percy Jackson and/or the classic Greek myths, I can assure you that you’ll enjoy this novel. Even if you don’t know anything about Greek mythology but love queer, star-crossed lovers romances, I still recommend this to you. Honestly, I may start recommending this to everyone. It’s an emotional journey from which I’m still not recovered. I may never recover.