✨ Spoiler Free ✨
Author: Madeline Miller
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication year: 2011
Content warnings: Major character death, murder, violence, slavery, abduction, abandonment, torture, rape (mentioned), human sacrifice, human trafficking, self-harm, child abuse, and war.
A modern retelling of the Greek myth the Trojan War from The Iliad told from the perspective of Patroclus and Achilles.
What I liked
- Patroclus’ characterisation
- Patroclus and Briseis’ relationship
- Historical elements
- The depictions of love
What I disliked
- Writing style
- Slow pacing
- The ending
Plot and Structure
Since the book is a retelling of a popular and widely known Greek myth, as expected, the plot and structure is largely based on The Iliad. Madeline Miller definitley put her own spin on it, but the core essence of the story is the same but written for a modern audience and exclusively from the perspectives of Patroclus and Achilles. It’s structured chronologically, beginning with Patroclus’ childhood. It builds his backstory and traces the origins of his relationship with Achilles before progressing to the events of the Trojan War. It includes the major plot points from the original myth but tweaks some things, particularly at the beginning and end. As all retellings should, it takes a popular story and gives new insight. The emphasis on romance was a little excessive for my tastes and I would’ve preferred more plot. This was particularly apparent towards the end where the tragic romance story took front and centre stage.
Whilst I generally enjoyed the plot and most of the changes that were made, it did feel slow throughout. This isn’t necessarily a disavantage, because it allowed space for me to get to know and connect with Patroclus, but there were parts that I found boring, particularly in the first half. Futherore, although Patroclus and Achilles’ perspective brought new insight, it hindered the story in other ways, leaving little room for some other significant characters.
Overall, the book wasn’t very plot-driven and was very focused on setting, themes, characters and relationships. Generally, these are the aspects of books that I enjoy most but there was something that just didn’t quite sync up in the way I expected to, but more about that in the Characters and Relationships section.
I struggled to connect to Miller’s bland and simple writing style. The tone of the writing didn’t match the tone of the story and pulled me away from the story multiple times. Whether it was the use of short sentences, lack of fluidity or plain language, it didn’t sell the story in the right way. It’s an epic tale and Miller portrayed Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship as a tragic love story, yet the writing was just okay. It achieved what it needed to but didn’t evoke the emotion from me that truly great writing usually does. It was clear and concise, but I would’ve liked more flower, this is a retelling of The Iliad afterall.
We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.
Characters and Relationships
I liked Patroclus as the main POV Character. His characterisation was standard for the “average guy turned hero” archetype, but his empathy and desire to do the right thing. In a world where power and status was what men most valued, Patroclus defied expectations. He acted out of his conscience, love, loyalty and duty. His compassion offsets Achilles pride and their differences sets the underlining moral message for the entire story. Patroclus was the most defined and nuanced of all the characters. The other characters were in the background, and even Achilles himself suffered from a severe lack of development, feeling more like a caricature than a fully rounded character. This was most likely because most of what we learned about Achilles was from Patroclus’ perspective who had rose-tinted glasses when it came to Achilles.
Leading on from that, this is where the review gets controversial – I didn’t like the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. My issues with this relationship were in part because Achilles was under-developed but also because their love seemed to magically happen despite having nothing in common. It’s particularly unfortunate, because the romance was the main focus of the story and the emotional impact of the ending was very dependent upon how invested the reader is in Achilles and Patroclus’ love.
Interestingly, I was more invested in Patroclus’ relationship with Briseis. It felt more complex, nuanced and sincere, and explored the blurry and complicated lines between platonic and romantic love. It was built on genuine connection, companionship and a liking for one another, none of which Patroclus seemed to have with Achilles to the same extent. Patroclus’ dynamic with Briseis was definitely the most captivating to me of all the character dynamics.
The Song of Achilles has receieved a lot of hype in the book community in recent years and although it has its merit, it didn’t blow me away. Madeline Miller has proven with this book and Circe that she’s able creatively take myths and adapt them for modern audiences, making them accessible and entertaining. By shifting focus to Patroclus and Achilles, Miller was able to add new depth and perspectives to the ancient myth. Whilst I enjoyed reading the book overall, it was lacking in a few areas. The emphasis on the romance was a barrier for me in emotionally connecting to the story because I disliked the way Achilles and Patroclus’ relationship was written. However, I enjoyed the underlying themes around love and pride, and the exploration of different types of human love and bonds. Overall, it had all the ingredients for a 5-star book, but the execution fell short and the overtly cheesy romantic ending left me feeling luke-warm.
I’d recommend The Song of Achilles if:
You’re looking for a romantic, modern retelling of a Greek myth with a gay romance.
Have you read The Song of Achilles or are you planning to read it? Let me know in the comments!
Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.