The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

We’re starting year two at Strange Charm with a new seasonal theme each. I’m focusing on mythology, a subject I’ve been obsessed with ever since I was a child (and a sort of companion series to last year’s fairytale season), and Rachel will be choosing examples of books that are self-published or from indie publishers. As always, please let us know if you have any suggestions for books that fit our themes!

  My eye catches on a light head among dozens of dark, tousled crowns. I lean forward to see. Hair lit like honey in the sun, and within it, glints of gold — the circlet of a prince.
He is shorter than the others, and still plump with childhood in a way they are not. His hair is long, and tied back with leather; it burns against the dark, bare skin of his back. His face, when he turns, is serious as a man’s.
When the priest strikes the ground, he slips past the thickened bodies of the older boys. He moves easily, his heels flashing pink as licking tongues. He wins.
My own father watches with envy. He turns to me.
“That is what a son should be.”

Patroclus is a gauche, shy prince, and an embarrassment to his warrior father. So when he is exiled to the court of Peleus and his godlike son Achilles, he hides in the shadows, trying not to draw attention to himself. But gradually, despite their completely different backgrounds and personalities, the two princes become friends. Together, they learn how to fight in wars and how to heal the sick, and their friendship blossoms into love, despite the disapproval of Achilles’ vengeful goddess mother. But then the Trojan war arrives, and Achilles is oath-bound to join the armies, and Patroclus, unable to bear their parting, follows him to Troy.

This is, first and foremost, a love story, and it is adorable. Thanks to an unhealthy obsession with Greek myths as a child (thanks, Usborne Book of Greek Mythology!), I knew how the story was going to play out. However, this retelling of the myth brought their love to life in a way I hadn’t seen before — it’s rather subtle in Homer’s Iliad, for example.

As well as a portrait of a love affair, the other standout feature of this book is the setting. Every scene feels drenched in mediterranean sunlight, and it is so well drawn you can almost feel the dry heat and taste the olives.

The early parts of the story are my favourite, where Patroclus and Achilles first meet, watching their shy attraction to one another slowly grow, until the become lovers. In the second half of the book, their relationship is tested by the realities of war. Patroclus, who has never been any good at actual fighting, turns his attentions to medicine and heals the sick instead, while Achilles feels the burden of being the Greek hero. I won’t spoil the ending, since this book is just as enjoyable if you don’t know the story in advance, and actually, if that is the case, then this book is an excellent introduction to all the stories of the Trojan war.

The Song of Achilles is available from Amazon.

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