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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Profoundly moving and breathtakingly original, this rendering of the epic Trojan War is a dazzling feat of the imagination, a devastating love story, and an almighty battle between gods and kings, peace and glory, immortal fame and the human heart.

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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.

Beautiful rocks a friend shared with me.

Rocks | Erica Robbin

Rating: 3 out of 5.
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Rating: 3 out of 5.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m still sorting my thoughts about this one.

I read this one for Life’s Library Book Club.

I think those looking for a twist on Greek mythology, something with a sort of magic school system fantasy, or coming of age story may enjoy this one more than I did.

I certainly applaud the risk in a retell. I for one did not really care for majority of it but there were things I really liked. Had more romance novel qualities than I expected.

Basically it started out strong but then I found it circling the drain.

I’ve always enjoyed the wonder of Greek mythology, being captivated by the figures, storylines, preservation, mythical realm, archaeological findings, and pictorial representations of weaponry, shields, leather sandals, the elements, and animals. Medusa, Icarus, Athena, and Achilles are my primary favorites. I haven’t read much about the deities and such for years, I find it incredibly hard to keep their family trees and heritage straight. This story to me, simplifies the complex, complicates the simple. I enjoyed certain aspects, while others I didn’t.

The Story
I felt this retelling to be somewhat overemphasized, idealistic with deductions out of unknown circumstances. Which is the creative part but I found it to be a story retold with certain implications that I just wasn’t on board with. What I wanted was something like Age of Empires, with thrilling concepts, battle scenes with swords clanking, someone biffing it with sand in their teeth. Depictions of honor, battle, and virtue.

I love stories with open interpretation with leadings to unifying universal relatability, but this one took all the things I love about these characters in Greek mythology and watered them down in one way while embellishing certain concepts, cloaking them in escapades of sex, perhaps for readers who would enjoy drooling over such optimism in using certain aspects of a relationship as the sole reason for the story.

I appreciated the creativity as a retell, but was less keen on the romantic focus, social inept, attempts to answer questions that weren’t asked. Which would be ok as a whole story, but my mind changed on my enjoyment of it as it started to focus more on a physical attraction, because at the center, it was in these abundance of sex tales where the notion and quantity of these experiences became mundane.

Overall I enjoyed the first bits of chapter, but started to realized how the book had a very large drawn out middle. The middle was more explaining the war and second cousins, uncles, and aunts than sword clink and clank, which again, was not what I was looking for. I needed a refresher but couldn’t decide if I should have stopped and reread Homer and other supporting literature, or whether this would be best read as an introductory piece, which in my mind, had nothing but my sparse memory to rely on and dig up what I thought was becoming a confusing perception of Petroclus who then turned out to be a more confused character than I ever thought of him as.

Then there was the ending, but I’ll stop here.

The Writing
I loved fluidity in language, combining modern or old and overall concept. It’s a very accessible story into Greek mythology with seamless bits of root terminology sprinkled throughout. I liked how it stayed within certain confines of speech in narration and dialogue, and not overly done in either way.

The Tone
Overall, came off as emotionally stagnant for me. There was too much invested into Petroclus as far as his love pursuit which became monotonous and dry because I didn’t feel he had much else to offer until the very end, which by then I was already bored and in my memory I don’t remember thinking he was that boring.

The Atmosphere
While staying true to certain aspects, I felt time was off, literally off. First the moon slithered smaller and smaller, next day spring races, next day Harvest moon. Then weeks went by so I felt sort of lost in moon progression phases and pacing altogether. I feel the main weakness for my taste is leaving certain details in and at the same time leaving certain things unsaid.

Descriptions
I was torn. Good descriptions became a bit repetitive. There were so many breathing descriptions. Holding still, blowing and holding breaths, by the end I was exhausted.

The Characters
My main dissatisfaction with the story. It was more lover than companionship, there wasn’t much connectivity to their relationship. I wasn’t convinced. Both ended up feeling like lost, rejected souls, finding love in each other, but not much in substance to speak of in this utopia of sex.

I didn’t like the way Petroclus was portrayed. I always thought of him as strong in a subtle way, like this foundational, philosophical, wise sounding board for Achilles, like this grounded person.

Instead he came off as an unbridled fumbling character, bordering unhinged. His characterization was a bit creepy, the silent watcher type of the worst kind. Petroclus was portrayed to me as a wondering soul, infatuated with the physical attraction toward Achilles and all without feelings of emotional attachment being reciprocated. Sort of this lustful obsession that I didn’t like and one I didn’t remember in past years of reading. I don’t know, I’m more about projected thoughts in characters that are more condensed and subtle I suppose.

Also there was nothing to be said about the training he did receive. By that I mean Petroclus spent all this time training as a guest of Achilles, yet it was said that wearing the armor of Achilles was heavy and foreign to him when it came time for battle. I just didn’t think there would have been that much of a distinction to be seen as almost unknown.

Achilles is another story. Again, physical attributes a bit drawn out compared to successes that I felt both characters had to offer from my memory, thinking back to original source.

Homer’s was dry from what I remember, but it was rich in depth and culture and nuance. I felt this book had peaks and valleys misplaced, centering around obsession, dare I say borderline fetish? Everyone will have a different take on it, but I really didn’t like it.

The relationship with his mother makes him more milquetoast than the fearless warrior that I depicted him to be and I didn’t see him as an anchor to the complimenting mind of Petroclus. Mother provided opposition to their relationship in a way I didn’t remember, and added complexity of mother not approving such a relationship as obstacle and contrast that which we were led to believe was the norm didn’t quite make sense to me. I get that there had to be some embellishment for development of the plot, but I don’t know about this one. I suppose it was hard to pick obstacles.

I loved the glossary and information at the end.

This book just didn’t capture the charm I wanted and overall lacked the meditative quality I was looking for. By no means devalued the work, it just didn’t highlight what I thought was the shining characteristics that stuck with me all these years.

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