Anna’s Book Nook: The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

Junior+Anna+Keneally+and+her+dog+Luna+use+their+%22godly%22+powers+to+watch+as+Achilles+defeats+his+enemy.

Art illustration by Anna Keneally

Junior Anna Keneally and her dog Luna use their “godly” powers to watch as Achilles defeats his enemy.

Be advised, this book contains mature content that could be triggering for some readers. Oh boy, did this book put me through it. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller was thrown across the room, marked up and tear-stained like no other book I have ever owned. Upon picking it up from Barnes and Noble, I had no idea what I was getting into, which is surprising considering that anyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows the story of Achilles and his downfall. So why on Earth did this book kill me as much as it did? Truthfully, I have no idea. That’s good writing for you.

Usually the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the tale of Achilles is not LGBTQ+ related. I thought the same, but was proven wrong. Regardless, The Song of Achilles is not only a story of war, but also legacy, love and devotion. Romance and the Trojan War at a glance do not seem to intersect, but this book definitely tops any John Green romance while still retaining the action-packed storyline.

The book is a retelling of the Trojan War, primarily Achilles’ part in it through the eyes of Patroclus, his “very close friend” (wink, wink). Achilles is bright, strong and “The Best of All The Greeks,” while Patroclus is awkward, exiled and the opposite of everything Achilles is. The two are still brought together and become inseparable. Most of my limited knowledge about Greek mythology came from the Percy Jackson series that I didn’t even finish reading in fourth grade, but I would not suggest looking up the characters online. I made that mistake and almost ruined the book for myself by running head-first into spoilers. The movie Avengers: Endgame had a spoiler ban for a while, but sadly this myth has been around for a couple of hundred years and the spoiler ban has since expired.

Aside from being extremely romantic, the book still takes place during a war and is a tense page-turner. I think the most fun part of the book was the occasional “aha!” moment I got when the pieces started to fall into place. Because most people know the end, the lead-up foreshadowing was so much more enjoyable to read and I did not feel like I had to decipher the text too much. Despite this, The Song of Achilles is still a heavy read, emotionally and mentally, and you might not catch everything the first time, but trust me, you will want to read it again.

The downside to knowing the ending is forever inching closer to the inevitable. I tried to convince myself that maybe the ending would change if I stared at the pages long enough. But, unlike Romeo and Juliet, another book with a set ending, The Song of Achilles does not seem so cliche and flat. Instead, Miller is able to make the end extremely dynamic to the point where I am still picking up the pieces well after its conclusion. She was able to take a dusty story and make it feel new again.

We get to choose how we remember things and even though the rest of the world believes that Achilles is “The Best of All The Greeks,” after reading the book I can say with much certainty that he was only half of it, because without Patroclus, he would be lost in history. Patroclus was not cut out for war and yet he went anyways. Patroclus was not meant to be a hero and yet he was heroic anyways. Nothing was expected from Patroclus and he gave his all regardless. We all should learn from Patroclus: The fates may determine the end, but it is up to us to fill in the rest.