Book Review: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A beautifully written retelling with a seamless blending of myth and historical detail.  Modern literature at its best. 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their differences, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’s mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess. But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.

Favourite Quote

This book is beautifully lyrical in it’s storytelling so picking one quote alone was extraordinarily difficult…I managed to narrow it down to two…

I could recognise him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet strike the earth.  I would know him in death, at the end of the world.

(The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, pg 126)


Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. ‘No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.’

(The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller, pg 283)


Where to begin? Let me start with this: I loved this book.  It is beautifully written, woven with emotion and poignancy.  In The Song of Achilles, we are taken on a journey to a time when gods and goddess and heroes still walked the earth, where a seamless blending of myth and history conjure a narrative so captivating and compelling that the book is impossible to put down.

The story can be divided into two: before the Trojan war and during it.  What struck me, was how in keeping with Homer’s Illiad this retelling was, and I appreciated that.

Having a life-long interest in Ancient Greece and Greek mythology, I am well acquainted with the story of The Trojan War.  And, my sympathies have always fallen on the side of the Trojans.  So, as I picked up this book, I did wonder if I would connect to a story that centred on Achilles.  My opinion of him – until I read this book – could probably be summed up in two words: “arrogant” and “blood-thirsty”.  I did not like him.  Of course, he is those things, but he is so much more complicated a character than that, one that evolves and transforms over time as the path of his destiny becomes clear.  Madeline Miller cleverly portrays this.  

All the characters were well-drawn: the cunning Odysseus; the proud, single-minded Agamemnon; the fearless Diomedes, the old, frail King Peleus.  The depiction of Thetis was terrifying; she was as cold and as dangerous as the sea that was her home.

The story can only be described as powerfully emotional and in places, it is devastating; it reduced me to tears on more than one occasion. Patroclus was the perfect narrator for Achilles’ story.  He brought balance, understanding and mortality to the tale of a half-divine killing machine.  Whereas Achilles is the perfect prince and Aristos Achaion, Best of the Greeks, Patroclus is imperfect, awkward and useless at fighting at a time when it is valued so highly.

As for the setting, the culture and landscape are brought vividly to life.  There is such a richness to the lyrical prose, it is easy to imagine the locations we visit: the palace at Phthia, Mount Pelion, Scyros, Aulis, the beach at Troy…but more than that, you can imagine being there.

Does this book transform my opinion of Achilles from villain to hero?  No, though he is perhaps less of a villain than I would have once stated.  But Patroclus…he is most certainly the hero of this retelling.

The Song of Achilles is modern literature at its best.  Highly recommended.  If you’ve yet to venture into Ancient Greek mythology or mythological retellings, this would be a good place to start.


Sammi Loves Books Reading Challenge 2019 – I’ve chosen this book for challenge #9 in the list: A book you’ve not read but one you really should have by now