Review: Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

I knew this book would become one of my favorites almost immediately.  In just a few pages, I was completely immersed in the story, and found myself picking up the book anytime I had a minute to spare.  And it’s unusual for a book to bring real, honest-to-goodness tears to my eyes, but this one most certainly did.

The Song of Achilles provides back story to one aspect of the Trojan War: the relationship between Achilles and his close friend, Patroclus.  As author Madeline Miller wrote in her Reader’s Guide,

I found myself particularly moved by his [Achilles’] desperate grief over the loss of his companion Patroclus. Patroclus is no more than a minor character in the Iliad, yet Achilles mourns him with a shocking intensity, unlike anything else in the entire work.  Why?  Who is this man whose death could undo the mighty Achilles?

Achilles is a mythological figure, son of the goddess Thetis, a sea-nymph, and the mortal Peleus.  At the age of 9, he hand-picks the exiled prince Patroclus as his constant companion.  Patroclus gains status and privilege, and as the boys grow their relationship strengthens into  love.  Thetis is displeased and tries to separate them, but their love is too powerful.  When armies are assembled to do battle with Troy, Patroclus is there at Achilles’ side.  Achilles has known for years that he will become the Greeks’ greatest warrior; the siege of Troy is his chance to shine.  But there are other prophecies that weigh heavily on Achilles and Patroclus, not to mention the reader.

Madeline Miller breathes such life and emotion into her characters.  Thetis is frightening; King Agamemnon is arrogant and cold-hearted; Odysseus is crafty.  Achilles is beautiful, and the love between him and Patroclus is simultaneously intense and sweet. It’s heartbreaking to watch the prophecies be fulfilled, and yet Miller offers an ingenious denouement that is wholly satisfying.

This 2012 Orange Prize winner is my best book of the year so far.

16 thoughts on “Review: Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

  1. Like you, I absolutely loved this book!! It is definitely a worthy Orang Prize winner to me and is my favorite read of 2012 thus far!!

    • Tina, we’re in good company — several people I know have praised this book. I’m glad I didn’t let it sit on my tbr for too long.

  2. Ah, I bought this book right after it was announced the Orange Prize winner – now I am really glad I did. Your review makes me want to read it immediately!

    • Wendy, I bought it a few weeks before the prize announcement, and for once in my life I had bet on a winner. You’ll love it, so don’t let it gather dust!

  3. I knew this wuld be a goodie and bought it days before the announcement too, then immediately read it once the prize was announced, really enjoyed it – she formed two great characters and made the story unforgettable, so much more than just the battle scenes of big epic movies, a really moving depiction I thought.

    • Hi Claire, and thanks for stopping by. It’s been a week since I finished this book and I still can’t get it out of my head, it’s that good.

  4. “Madeline Miller breathes such life and emotion into her characters.” This was definitely one of the aspects that made me like this one so much. Although, thinking of it, I’d be hard pressed to find something I didn’t like.

  5. Pingback: Orange Reading: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller | Iris on Books

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