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The Song of Achilles: A Novel Paperback – Aug. 28 2012
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“At once a scholar’s homage to The Iliad and startlingly original work of art by an incredibly talented new novelist….A book I could not put down.”
“Mary Renault lives again!” declares Emma Donoghue, author of Room, referring to The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller’s thrilling, profoundly moving, and utterly unique retelling of the legend of Achilles and the Trojan War. A tale of gods, kings, immortal fame, and the human heart, The Song of Achilles is a dazzling literary feat that brilliantly reimagines Homer’s enduring masterwork, The Iliad. An action-packed adventure, an epic love story, a marvelously conceived and executed page-turner, Miller’s monumental debut novel has already earned resounding acclaim from some of contemporary fiction’s brightest lights—and fans of Mary Renault, Bernard Cornwell, Steven Pressfield, and Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series will delight in this unforgettable journey back to ancient Greece in the Age of Heroes.
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From the Back Cover
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.
- Publisher : Ecco (Aug. 28 2012)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062060627
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062060624
- Item weight : 295 g
- Dimensions : 2.44 x 13.67 x 19.86 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #202 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in Canada on May 18, 2021
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Top reviews from Canada
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I also find feet disgusting so the protagonist narrator going on and on about his foot fetish disgusted me to the point I struggled to continue in places.
The final problem I had was the constant sexual assault of every female character ( except one who is herself a rapist). There are also few female characters and this doesn’t pass Bechdel. I understand part of this is the source material but I’ve read Circe by this author and there’s a graphic rape scene in that as well. The author just seems to like them.
The overall writing style is enjoyable and I appreciate new life being given to old stories. I also like that there is mlm or gay representation.
Unfortunately due to the sheer amount of sexual assault on this book along with the creepy foot fetish I will be regifting my copy and don’t intend to reread it.
I'm glad I finally broke down as I truly enjoyed the tale of Achilles and Patroclus' love.
Homer didn't mention anything about a romance between the two in The Iliad. However, there have been many scholars and historians (both classic and modern) discussing them being lovers.
The Song of Achilles was in Patroclus' POV, and we saw the humanity of a son of a goddess. It follows their growth from their youth through to the Trojan War. Their lovemaking scenes were only hinted at off-page.
If you like mythology stories or anything about the Trojan War, I feel you'd enjoy this, but I would not compare it to the masterworks. Nothing compares to that.
If you are not familiar with The Iliad, I would read that first or understand what happened/who was involved/where it took place.
Despite my long list of material, I never really thought about Achilles as possibly having what we would now refer to as a gay relationship but when you think about it, it rather makes sense. The Greek soldiers were encouraged to have lovers amongst their ranks in the belief that they would fight harder to defend them and they were considered the fiercest warriors of their time. In the movie with Brad Pitt, Achilles is portrayed as being a ladies man yet there is that intense relationship he has with Patroclus, his cousin, that hints that there may be more to it. This story has him completely uninterested in woman and totally manipulated by his goddess mother, not the nice lady from the movie.
This story is not full of over-the-top explicit sexual scenes. On the contrary, it is tenderly written without being offensive to anyone who prefers not to read what might be called vulgarity. It is also one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. So while the story may be familiar, there are twists and variations in this particular one — a centaur educating Achilles and Patroclus and a complete glossing over of the Trojan horse, to name a few — that someone who enjoys reading about this ancient time, legend, and its characters will find enough to stay thoroughly engaged. It took me a couple of days to read but was difficult to put down.
Genuinely this was just an absolutely beautiful and touching book that now contains some of my favourite lines in literature ever. ♡ If you're on the fence about this book, PLEASE just go ahead and give it a read ! ♡
Top reviews from other countries
The Song of Achilles is a retelling, one which takes the myth and runs with it. Here Achilles really is the son of a sea nymph, he is trained by a centaur, and gods play their part in the lives of man.
I used to know my Classics a lot better that I do now - Roger Lancelyn Green’s books were a staple of my childhood library - so this was a book which unfolded for me. I remembered each plot point as we hit it, so I’m entirely the wrong person to ask if it makes any logical sense. It probably doesn’t. It certainly could have done a better job of selling ancient motivations to a modern audience.
The story is told by Patroclus, a prince and, when he begins this story, unlikely candidate for Helen’s hand in marriage. I am super here for a room full of men deciding what will happen to a teenage girl, as you can imagine. This is a male story, though, and Miller doesn’t attempt to change that.
However, when Patroclus inadvertently kills another boy, he is exiled to the court of Peleus where he falls swooningly in love with Mary Sue Achilles, who’s super perfect at everything (as one expects from a demi-god). Thetis, Achilles’ mother, really hates Patroclus. The boys go off to learn things on a mountain. They are swoonily swoony. They come back. Thetis hates Patroclus. Then she hides Achilles because she doesn’t want him to go to Troy as he will be killed.
Once the war actually begins, a good half way through the book, things improve, in part because there’s actually things happening. There is air of inexorability to the whole thing which really gets into its stride in the last third as we make the drive towards what is fated to happen (and we’re no longer reading rambling scenes about how swoony teenage Achilles is).
When Miller hits the predetermined narrative events, she’s good. When she’s making her own way between, she’s… less good.
For a book which treats the gods as real, there’s an awful lot of “something’s happening because the gods are displeased” conversations, followed by “here’s the solution to that” conversations. Obviously there’s no one correct version of many of the myths, but sometimes Miller takes the path of most boredom, such as the demand for the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Apollo’s appearance on the walls of Troy especially charmed me, so the omission of the gods involvement in other ways, even as a background, felt disappointing.
I am also critical of the characterisation. Odysseus is great, true, but everybody else? Eh.
Achilles lives his whole life chained to the prophecies made about him, but whatever this does to him remains unexplored. He’s just some guy. Admittedly one who is super good at everything and jolly good looking. And when we’re reading the narrative of a boy, then man, who is in love with him, I’d really have preferred to grasp the appeal.
Thetis is especially poorly done. Like her son she is chained to the pronouncements of the Fates, but here she is a pure JustNoMil. She’s such a central figure in the original myth - the Trojan war begins because of a prophecy made about her: the son of Thetis will be greater than his father, hence “marriage” to Peleus, hence somebody not doing the invitations right, hence golden apple etc etc etc
I was also unreasonably annoyed that Miller chooses to not use the one thing everybody knows about our demi-god: that he really should have invested in some foot armour. Google assures me Homer doesn’t include the story of Thetis’s attempt to make her son invulnerable and immortal, but Homer doesn’t include Achilles’ death, either. Or the romantic relationship between him and Patroclus. It felt like a massive oversight rather than a deliberate decision.
The beginning was interesting if not grippy. Then it got a bit dull. Then a bit duller. Then, by the end, it was very good indeed. I don’t rule out reading Circe, Miller’s second full length novel, but I could just as easily not. Overall?
She's managed to take everything we know of the story from the existing texts and build a world that is thoroughly absorbing and beautiful. It's a story of epic soul binding love, so beautifully rendered.
I really enjoyed how there was no modern lens put onto the story. She just tells it. Ideas and concepts that mean something to us would have been meaningless to the ancients, and behaviours we find unacceptable were normal. So some bits are difficult, there's human sacrifice, and slavery including sexual slavery, but nothing is gratuitous or too graphic.
Just read it it's beautiful.
I actually loved it. This is a beautifully-written, very descriptive book. It was easy to read, and a real page turner. I felt that I learned a lot about ancient Greece and the Trojan war. I can't fully remember the story of Achilles from school (it has been erased from my memory, along with Jason and the Argonauts, and the Minotaur) but I loved this re-telling and couldn't put the book down. The simple, striking cover is beautiful too and I would thoroughly recommend this book. A wonderful read.
Does this count as historical, or mythological, or pure fantasy? Don't care - brilliant, brilliant book. It was positively painful to read it if I'm honest but I couldn't put it down. One of those books that I felt a true and consuming sense of loss for a few days after reading it. Recommended to EVERYONE.