Review: THE SONG OF ACHILLES

Happy Wednesday!

Today, we’re taking a break from Lady Emily to review a book I read more recently that I’m still emotionally recovering from: THE SONG OF ACHILLES by Madeline Miller.

Am I taking a break from Lady Emily to prolong this review series since there are only two reviews left and I won’t know what to do with myself then? Maybe.

Nevertheless! We’re delving into some Greek mythology today, and I will probably cry at least once while typing this post. I went into TSOA knowing that it makes everybody cry. I was warned by friends, by other bloggers, by my favorite podcast (Let’s Talk About Myths, Baby! if you’re wondering—go check her out, she’s amazing). I went into this book knowing it was going to emotionally destroy me, and I took it as a challenge.

I don’t know the last time a book made me cry. Maybe when I read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS at 16? That seems to be the last memory I can think of. I’m almost 24 now, so… it’s been a while. While I am a very emotional person, and I do get choked up and misty-eyed very easily, I rarely cry because of media like books and movies. (Again, the last movie I cried at was Avengers: Endgame. Before then, I think it might’ve been Marley and Me… when I was like 15).

So I went into THE SONG OF ACHILLES thinking, Yeah, it’s made everyone cry but not me. RIP to those other people but I’m different.

Reader, I am not different.

But let me circle back and do this review the right way. We’ve got to build up to the emotional distress, right?

First of all, spoiler alert but not really because doesn’t everyone at least vaguely know the story of Achilles? The Trojan war? Or was I just a weird kid whose mom taught all these Greek stories to at a young age? Anyways, I digress. Spoiler alert: Achilles and Patroclus are gay. This is not a choice Miller made while writing this story, if you read THE ILIAD you’ll see for yourself that Achilles and Patroclus were very much lovers whose story has been straight-washed by historians and that is just fucking tragic. Because seriously, I’ve always thought Achilles was one of the biggest bitches of the Trojan War, but his love with Patroclus is so pure, so deep, so wonderful… I’m getting ahead of myself and I’m going to cry just thinking about them.

Another spoiler alert, which isn’t really a spoiler if you’re at all familiar with THE ILIAD: they do not live. It is, after all, the Trojan War. Neither of them saw the end of the war. Again, not really a spoiler since it’s straight out of the source material, and also while that fact makes the ending incredibly powerful, you’re not going to lose anything by going into this book knowing that they die.

The book is written in the perspective of Patroclus, a young Greek prince who is never able to live up to his father’s expectations and who is exiled after accidentally killing another boy by pushing him; the boy trips, and poor Patroclus is haunted by his face for years to come. He’s sent to a neighboring island, Scyros, where, lo and behold, Achilles is the prince.

Achilles, prince of Scyros, son of man and the see nymph Thetis, rumored to have been dipped in the Styx as an infant and made invincible everywhere except the point on his ankle where Thetis held him. The myth differs based on where you read it from, of course, and in Miller’s take I don’t believe that myth was ever fully addressed at all. Achilles is great. The best of the Greeks. He is destined to be the greatest warrior of the Greek army, the warrior to unite the city-states in battle… but first, he’s a kid.

He’s a kid who chooses Patroclus as his best friend, his companion. Patroclus is allowed to spend all of his time with Achilles, shares a room with him, shares everything with him. Thetis knows of her son’s fate. Thetis knows of her son’s budding relationship with Patroclus. She does not approve of either, and makes it her mission to stop both. Alas, Thetis is no match for fate.

The story follows the two boys as they grow into young men, when they are tricked by Odysseus and recruited to lead the Scyros army to Troy in search of the Spartan King Menelaus’s wife Helen, stolen from him by Paris of Troy. (Was she “stolen”? Or did she go willingly? Who knows, women didn’t have agency in Ancient Greece and I don’t have enough space in this post to rant about gender dynamics in the ancient world!)

Neither wants to fight in battle, but Achilles takes to it quickly. Patroclus, on the other hand, shows skill as a healer, mending the wounds of those in battle. The couple scheme with one another to thwart Agamemnon’s plans to ravish the Trojan women taken from the surrounding villages, creating a safe haven for them in the camps. Patroclus and Achilles both, equally and in their own way, leave their mark on the Greek army. They are both Great. They are both the best of the Greeks, in their own way.

The language of this book is beautiful. It’s poetic, it paints an incredible picture in your imagination of the setting, the scene, the love… There were a few points throughout where I feared I might cry, but didn’t.

It wasn’t until the very last three pages that I absolutely lost my shit. Like, could barely read the words on the page because my eyes would not stop leaking, had to sit for a minute and figure out how to breath again, sort of lost my shit. It absolutely b r o k e me. I thought about it the entire night. I thought about it nonstop for the whole next day. I couldn’t pick up another book for almost a week. I was shattered.

Miller gives Patroclus the attention he deserves in this retelling of the famous Trojan War. We experience his entire life with him, every high and every low, and we feel for him. The ending made me cry because it was such a powerful culmination of all those things—all those hopes and dreams and wants and fears, all brought together at the end of his life. “Beautiful” barely covers it.

I gave this book a five out of five stars on Goodreads, and I stand by that wholeheartedly. I will reread this book every time I need a solid cry.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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