The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller
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Buy *The Song of Achilles* by Madeline Miller online

The Song of Achilles
Madeline Miller
384 pages
March 2012
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Interesting that Miller’s novel focuses primarily on Patroclus, her story told mostly through his first-person narrative. In The Song of Achilles, Patroclus has a deep, meaningful, and physically passionate relationship with the blond half-god Achilles. Held up as a model of romantic lovers, Achilles is tender towards Patroclus but often callous, bloodless, even arrogant towards others--especially Agamemnon, who Achilles stubbornly defies, causing the death of his lover and becoming the prime motivation for Achilles to return to battle.

There are massive amounts of blood and brutality in the final pages of Miller’s gorgeous tale in which she recounts in great and poetic detail the infamous decade-long war with Troy. Vast legends have grown from this conflict which began soon after Paris abducted Helen from her husband, Menelaus, the king of Sparta. Echoing throughout is Achilles' strong physical bond with Patroclus, whom he loved dearly and whose death underpins a great deal of Achilles' actions and emotions concerning the Trojan war.

Opening to the tenacious musings of five-year-old Patroclus, the boy remembers the scattered images from his life. After accidentally killing his friend during an argument over a game of dice, Patroclus is exiled to the palace of their kinsman King Peleus of Phthia. Here Patroclus first meets Peleus's son Achilles. From the outset, Patroclus’s attraction to the handsome boy prince is palpable. Achilles' beauty shines like a flame, vital and bright and drawing Patroclus’s eye against his will. The prince’s presence is “like a stone in his shoe impossible to ignore.”

Miller’s novel is distinctive in its portrayal of this burgeoning love and Patroclus’s changing world. He is unable to change the stain of his reputation, yet beneath a harvest moon he is sworn to Achilles by blood oaths and by love. When Peleus sends the boys to live in the wilderness on Mount Pelion to be raised by Chiron, the wise cave-dwelling king of the Centaurs, Patroclus describes the days slipping by in idyll and a friendship that comes all at once, like spring floods and mountains. Amid the nights of swimming, the strength of Patroclus’s desire and the speed with which it flowers shocks him.

The warnings of sea nymph Thetis do little to stop fate plunging in with a vengeance as she speaks the phrase: “you will be dead soon enough.” While Thetis is clear that she does not wish Patroclus as a companion for her son, Achilles matures into the greatest warrior of his generation as his tenderness for his friend grows ever-more passionate. From a young man born to war to the cold, distant gods who might as well be as far off as the moon, “the trinity of fears” come to haunt Patroclus: Chiron, Peleus, and Thetis, who would feed Achilles the food of the gods and burn his human blood from his veins.

Revealing the high cost of war, its glory and violence, Miller recounts the journey of the Greeks to Troy, the dizzying bedlam of the main encampment, the bodies of thousands of men as the front-lines collide in an explosion of sounds, spraying splinters, bronze and gore. Blood-splattered, breathless Achilles, so “simple, unadorned, and glorious,” harbors a grace all his own. While Patroclus simmers in his love, so does the golden warrior see greater anguish in betrayal, as those once loyal attempt to dishonor him and ruin his immortal reputation.

Filled with painstaking research and crafted with enough breakneck twists and turns to keep the reader literally gasping until the story's very end, Miller's tale is a nonstop ride that seizes on the spirit of Achilles as he is forced to navigate a dangerous world defined by the powerful gods who rule over the politics and destinies of men.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2012

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