Book Review / Books / Literary Women

Book Review: The Song of Achilles

In case you’re not familiar with the Trojan War, I’ll try my best not to spoil too much. This book is a retelling of parts from the Iliad from the point of view of Patroclus, an exiled prince, who was shipped to live and train as a soldier under another king. There he meets prince Achilles; they become friends and fall in love. They train and grow up together before setting out on an adventure that will lead them to their epic tragic end at the walls of Troy.



Never have I ever felt more “meh” about a novel.

My disappointment in this book is quite hard to admit. Song of Achilles is centered around Greek mythology and the Trojan War which I absolutely adore considering I plan on studying Classics.

I’ve never read any “fan fiction” sort of novels based on Achilles and the Greeks and as someone who’s been a mythology fan for a long time, I figured that I had to give it ago. Let me just say that this is the last time that I get book recommendations from pretty Tumblr edits.

Song of Achilles wasn’t atrocious, it was more a mixed bag of success and failure. Mainly crippling disappointment.

Once we’re at Troy which is two hundred or so pages into the novel, the depiction of the actual war is very well done and that’s where I found myself really getting invested in the novel. However, up until that point I was in two minds about giving up.

I love the story between Patroclus and Achilles, but the characterisation annoyed me. Their romance wasn’t insta-love, but it wasn’t slow burning either. It kind of happened. I was hoping for a little more development between the two young boys seeing as their both falling love for the first time. I guess I wished there was more excitement. ‘Young love’ and all that.

In addition to this, poor Patroclus doesn’t develop any personality traits until page 250 where all the action starts to happen which I know echos in character in The Iliad who was subservient to Achilles until he pretends to be him in battle and we see him as a fighter, but considering this is essentially Iliad fan fiction about Achilles and Patroclus I was hoping to see more of him as a person.

The fact that it’s told from Patroclus’ point of view was rather infuriating. It was too one sided and I felt like the flaws in Achilles were overlooked because Patroclus was so besotted with him. We, as readers, never got to be able to experience the wrathful flaws Achilles had like pride and his ability to hold a grudge.

Miller is an amazing storyteller and I will commend her for those great descriptions of battle scenes and political intrigue. However, because Patroclus was the narrator, I never felt there were enough of those. Patroclus didn’t fight much and even when on the battlefield, he spent the majority of his time protected by Achilles.

In the last third, the tenses of past and present tend to jump around a bit. [SPOILER AHEAD] It’s never a good idea to kill of the narrator of your novel and then have them continue to narrate. There’s been the rare few occasions where an author can pull it off, but I just don’t think Miller did. After Patroclus’ death, I was confused as to whether he was alive or not. [END SPOILER]

I want to give this book two stars because it took me so long to get through and had it been more captivating then I know that I would have found the will to finish it quicker because all the issues aside, I actually really enjoy Greek myth.

Overall, I found it dull. The ending was nicely done with Thetis, Achilles’ mother, and possibly the only character I actually loved in the novel. The sea nymph was the only one who I felt was written extremely well, showing some compassion towards her son’s lover on the rare occasions.

If your Greek mythology knowledge is up to scratch, then I’d probably recommend Song of Achilles to you. It’s been heralded by many readers, but I think it’s more of a hit-and-miss. If you’re expecting war and epic battles, then I’ll be the bearer of bad news and tell you that only happens in the last third of the novel. That means a lot of build up.

But if you’re not a huge mythology nut and you don’t know your Agamemnon from your Ajax, then I’d say give it a miss. Otherwise all the characters with their fancy Greek myth names will probably leave you a tad puzzled. Seriously, the easiest name in there was Hector.

My heart weeps to give this rating as I’m such a fan of Greek myth. Alas, it’s only earned two stars from me.


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