Plot: Patroclus is the son and the grandson of kings. He is also a great disappointment to his father: he is small, timid and a terrible warrior. When he accidentally kills a boy, he is sent into exile to the court of King Peleus. There he meets Prince Achilles, the best of all the Greeks, and they form a bond of friendship and love. Patroclus is determined to never leave his friend’s side, even if war and fate threaten to send him to an early grave.
The Song of Achilles is essentially The Illiad from Patroclus’ point of view. I read The Illiad almost 10 years ago as an undergrad but Miller’s vivid, carefully researched tale brought it all rushing back. I was hooked from the first page and did not want to put the book down until I was done.
Being me, I couldn’t resist the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. Miller’s Achilles is in many ways irresistible: proud and arrogant (he is, after all, the best of all the Greeks and knows it) but also beautiful, direct and trusting. I can perfectly understand Patroclus’ initial envy, his love and his frustration with what Achilles becomes at Troy. And though he himself doesn’t recognize it, there is no one more deserving of Achilles’ love than Patroclus. There is real passion here but also deep affection.
All the characters are beautifully crafted from wily, scheming Odysseus to (my personal favorite) Achilles’ war prize Briseis, an intelligent, kind woman who becomes a true friend to Patroclus. Miller makes even the gods feel real. This is a world where Greek gods walk among men but at no point does it feel like fantasy.
This is a tale of love, honor and war so there is plenty of action and emotion but it was the foreshadowing that killed me. When Achilles says of someone taking his things “I think I would be angry” or of Hector “Why should I kill him? He’s done nothing to me”, I thought I would howl. This is what it must feel like to live in a world with prophecy and fate.
I knew how the story would end, and I knew it would not end well, but that didn’t stop me from weeping for the last three or four chapters. It was making it hard to read.
An amazing book. If you have any interest in the classics, you must read this.