“The Song of Achilles” by Madeline Miller

Song of Achilles

From the author’s blog:

Greece in the age of Heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia. Here he is nobody, just another unwanted boy living in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles.

Achilles, “best of all the Greeks,” is everything Patroclus is not—strong, beautiful, the child of a goddess—and by all rights their paths should never cross. Yet one day, Achilles takes the shamed prince under his wing and soon their tentative connection gives way to a steadfast friendship. As they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something far deeper—despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

Fate is never far from the heels of Achilles. When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men 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. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows Achilles into war, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they have learned, everything they hold dear. And that, before he is ready, he will be forced to surrender his friend to the hands of Fate.

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.

We read this in September 2014

Of the nine members who attended the meeting, the general response was a mild liking, with a few people expressing stronger feelings of either enjoyment or dislike.

Several readers found the book disappointing. Sallie felt that there was not enough detail,  and Jade said that the prose was dull, cliched and lacking in beauty.  Helen had expectations of an Orange prize winner, which were not fulfilled. Several commented on the gay love story: one found it over-the-top, whilst others found it tiresome, repetitive, unbelievable.  A couple of readers who had otherwise enjoyed the book found that the section with the centaur was rather dull.

Of the positive comments; several readers commented that parts of the book were more interesting and gripping. The beginning, with the presentation of suitors was liked, so too was the ending, with the narrator continuing even after his death. Others liked the excitement of battle and the story of doomed love, also the portrayal of gods and the handling of Greek mythology.

Further comments were received by email from four of those unable to join the meeting. None had yet finished the book but one had enjoyed the start and felt that the book showed good, solid writing. The other three disliked the book so much they only managed 100 pages or fewer.

Two of the non finishers had given the score of nil, prompting further discussion at the meeting about whether scoring so low was acceptable!

The average score was 4.2 (from 11 readers) or 5.2 (if the two zero scores are ignored).


Reviews elsewhere suggest that the split of opinions expressed by our group has been similarly reflected in others’ discussion. Sam Jordison comments on this in his Guardian review, which is headlined:

To some it elegantly evokes the ‘chill of antiquity’; to others it’s hamfisted and infantile.



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1 Comment

  1. A disappointing score! We read this (Overndale Book Club, Acle) a while back and I enjoyed it. Alison


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