We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the otherThe Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Achilles, “the best of all the Greeks,” son of the cruel sea goddess Thetis and the legendary king Peleus, is strong, swift, and beautiful irresistible to all who meet him. Patroclus is an awkward young prince, exiled from his homeland after an act of shocking violence. Brought together by chance, they forge an inseparable bond, despite risking the gods’ wrath. They are trained by the centaur Chiron in the arts of war and medicine, but when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, all the heroes of Greece are called upon to lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the cruel Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.
I have finally embarked the “The Song of Achilles” train after, what now feels like forever, under the expert guidance of the beautiful ladies @exquisitepages @esmee_books and @thegatheringofpages. I have to say that I needed some time after reading it to gather my thoughts (which were all over the place) and then write this review, and even now I am not sure I’ll be able to use words that can justly encompass the beauty of this book.
I have a big love for retellings. And an even bigger love for Mythology. They pick my interest any and every time. They always manage to capture my imagination: the battles between gods and mortals and the half-god heroes that manage to surpass all reality when it comes to their bravery.
The Song of Achilles was Miller’s debut work and it’s a retelling about the legend of Achilles and his participation in the battle of Troy. But most importantly it is the story of Achilles’ relationship with Patroclus, who in this telling is not only his best friend but also his lover. Patroclus narrates this version of the story and it all begins during Patroclus’ childhood, and what leads to his exile where he meets Achilles, and all the way up until they both meet their tragic fates.
To be absolutely honest, what is so intoxicating and gripping about this story is not only the exquisite representation of a queer love story (that made me weak on the knees 😍) but also the fact that at its very core this is a story that teaches us what it means to truly and unabashedly love someone. The story may be about Achilles but we see him and get to know him through Patroclus eyes and follow along their tragic story and just how their love prevails through all.
This book perfectly portrays the reality of what it is like to love someone. The fact that you fall in love with everything, the good and the bad,that you learn to accept the other person’s faults as well as you do your own, and you celebrate their victories as vigorously as you do your own. It is a raw and honest love they share, and that only made me that much more devoted to it.
The relationship between the two of them isn’t forced or falls prey to such notions as love at first sight. It doesn’t paint Patroclus as someone who gets attached to Achilles because of his undeniable power and prestige. They developed a relationship that took years of trust and commitment. So, all of Patroclus’ actions are justifiable in the sense that Achilles is someone he has promised himself to because he genuinely loves him. When you love someone that authentically, you would do anything in your power to support them, even if it is at your own expense.
What also adds a legitimacy to their story is the fact that Miller does not make Patroclus sound like a fool blinded by love. He stands up for what he judges to be right, he doesn’t nullify himself for Achilles’ sake. He knows exactly what he is getting himself into by staying with Achilles, he knows what lies at the end of the road for them both very early in the story, but that doesn’t deter him because Achilles is the man he loves and that feeling is completely indisputable.
Miller also makes a point of addressing the difficulties they both have to endure as a same sex couple. She adds a much needed realism to this fictional story grounding it with facts concerning the historical context in which it takes place. She examines the standards etched in society and doesn’t neglect its prejudices for the sake of a fictional universe.
The characterization is flawless. Patroclus is often described as a nobody and people are always letting him know how unremarkable he is, but in my honest opinion he is one of the kindest, strongest, most honorable people I’ve ever seen. And Achilles, although a hero, surprised me right in the beginning of the story with how simple and humble he could be. Of course the true beauty of all this is being able to follow these two characters as they grow up, to see old faults settling in and new ones rising according to the situations they encounter, and their consequences.
And then seeing the trust and influence they have on each other and how they, more often than not, become the other’s voice of reason and biggest counselor. Achilles would not have become a legend without Patroclus’ influence on his life, and likewise Patroclus could not have grown in the ways that he did without being inspired by Achilles. They made each other better, or at least tried hard to.
This book made me feel true love at its purest form. It showed that what matters most is the people in your life, those you love who love you right back, with a strength that fills us with hope and dreams and sets us free. It made me cry. And it also made me love. It is definitely a favorite.