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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller - Book Review

4 min read
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller - Book Review

Table of contents

⛰ What It's About (No Spoilers)

Patroclus, an exiled prince, meets Achilles, son of a Thetis, a goddess, and Peleus, king of Phthia; prince of Phthia; and prophesied to be the greatest warrior, besting all of the Aristos Achaion that have come before him. Their bond takes them to invade Troy, whose men kidnapped a wife of Sparta.



🔍 How I Discovered It

One of my friends told me about this, and I found it on BookTok and BookTube.

🧠 Thoughts (Spoilers)

I read Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card as a sophomore, and it reignited my long-lost passion for books. Since then, I haven’t found a book that enthralls me as much as it did until now. The Song of Achilles is a well-paced book that tells the story of the Trojan War. I expected this book to be overhyped, but it certainly isn’t. You don’t need any prior knowledge about Greek mythology or history; Madeline Miller treats each character as an individual and contextualizes what you need to know. Although, some of the names were confusing. I think if I reread the book, I’d enjoy it more and pick up on the more subtle references to past events.

Patroclus’ and Achilles’ relationship develops pretty fast. The parts leading up to that weren’t painful—we didn’t have to watch Patroclus describe Achilles’ luscious locks while Patroclus denying his love for Achilles (unlike The People We Meet on Vacation). Thinking about it now, it's symbolic how Patroclus' and Achilles' roles shift: Patroclus is the killer at the beginning and Achilles is the innocent child, whereas, at the end, Patroclus is the innocent child and Achilles has killed more men than he could count.

I like Chiron and his involvement with training the two warriors. It was nice to hear Chiron defend Patroclus from Thetis and for Chiron to accept Patroclus for who he is and emphasize that he could be useful without being a soldier. I wish that there was more of a contrast between Achilles before Chiron’s training and Achilles after. It seems like Achilles didn’t gain much from Chiron. I understand that Achilles is supposed to be undefeatable, but Chiron is known for teaching the great warriors before Achilles—he must’ve given them some crucial insights.

I didn’t expect the book to end in an all-out war. Even if it did, I thought the Greeks would easily win since Achilles is posited to be Aristos Achaion—the best of all Greeks. Regardless, the Trojan War was a great part of the story. I loved the development of Briseis, her story, and her bond with Patroclus. It’s a shame that Briseis and Patroclus never developed into more. I think Briseis would’ve been better for Patroclus than Achilles was. Achilles became vain, absorbed in attaining fame, and as a result, neglected Patroclus and his wishes. Briseis treated Patroclus very well and cared for him. Granted, Achilles was kind and caring before the Trojan War and the news about his death. I guess true love is undying?

I couldn’t believe it when Patroclus died. I thought he would be saved from Hector by some miracle, like Achilles showing up. I’m happy Madeline didn’t want the book to have a purely happy ending. I believe she gave a fitting ending to Patroclus. It’s interesting hearing Patroclus’ narration of what unfolds after his death. I like how it plays into the Greek beliefs of the soul and whatnot (unless it was just a ploy so that Madeline didn’t have to change narrators).

It’s also crazy that gods just showed up in the story and Achilles fought them. It felt unfair to Achilles, but that’s the exact feeling I’m assuming Madeline was shooting for. At parts, I thought it was stupid how the gods couldn’t easily kill Achilles and instead became mad at him and sent their sons to kill him. I had to, however, remind myself that my conception of “gods” is aligned with Christianity. Achilles’ death at Apollo’s hands seems like a fair ending for him.

Finally, we see what happens with Thetis. Thetis despised Patroclus for the entire book until the end. After Thetis bonds with Patroclus over their shared memories of Achilles, she finally grants Patroclus his will: to be buried with Achilles and see him in the underworld. Again, we see that shift in the characters. First, it was Patroclus and Achilles swapping their murderous intent, and now it’s Thetis liking Patroclus after hating him.

Overall, The Song of Achilles is an amazing book about Greek mythology and romance. Its prose is fantastic and keeps you wanting more.

🥰 Who Would Like It?

You'll probably like this book if you like romance, Greek mythology, or LBTQIA+ books. Even if you just like fiction, I still think you'll like this book.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes
"There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?”
Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from."
In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out the sun.
Michel Liao

Michel Liao

Boise, Idaho, United States
Hello! I'm a sophomore studying computer science at Princeton. I like reading, rock climbing, and running.