I used to love Greek and Roman mythology as a kid, but Achilles and the Battle of Troy never interested me much. Too much gore and to be honest Achilles seems like a real douche. But Madeline Miller’s Circe was one of my favourite reads of 2019, so I figured that if any version of his story was ever going to be compelling, it was her debut novel, The Song of Achilles.
The book is narrated by Patroclus, who as a boy is exiled by his father and grows up unremarkable and mostly unnoticed among the boys of Phthia. He forges an unexpected connection with the prince Achilles, to look at it his polar opposite, and each eventually becomes the other’s entire world. When Achilles is called to lead his army into battle, Patroclus follows to try and keep his other half safe.
Watching the two fall in love is a joy. It reminds you of how freaking rare and special it is to find someone who fully understands you. You probably already know Achilles’ fate at the Battle of Troy, but Miller makes this work for her and in an interesting reflection, both men are aware of a prophecy foretelling his early death. Even though you know what’s coming, her writing is so good that she manages to make a well-known story as shocking and powerful and heart-wrenching as if you were experiencing it for the first time.
By the end, I understood how the Phthian army felt, because I was also ready to charge blindly into battle to protect Achilles and Patroclus.