Wednesday, March 16, 2016

What we're reading: A new take on Greek mythology

Reviewed by Laura M., reference librarian

I recently picked up The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller, because of the rave reviews it earned from two other librarians here, and I could not agree with them more! Though I wouldn’t consider myself a scholar of Greek mythology, I knew just enough to appreciate the way Miller makes all the well-known figures of the Trojan War come to life.

In this story we meet Patroclus, the young prince who is exiled from his father’s kingdom and is taken in by Achilles’s father. Achilles is the beautiful half-mortal, half-god destined to become the world’s best warrior. Scared and alone, Patroclus is resigned to a life of obscurity, until Achilles decides to take him under his wing. The two become close companions, and it becomes clear that this is no ordinary friendship. Determined to keep them apart, Achilles’s mother, the sea-nymph Thetis, sends Achilles to train with the wise centaur, Chiron. Patroclus follows him, and while finally on their own, the friendship develops into much more. Then a little thing called the Trojan war starts, and the young Achilles is called on to lead the army into battle.

Miller writes with such clarity, insight, and poetry that I’ve never found it easier to suspend my disbelief at the touches of magic woven throughout. And even though Achilles and Patroclus are mythical beings engaged in a long war, the joys and struggles they face are universal. Whether it is the thrill of a new relationship, meeting someone around whom you can finally be yourself, dealing with disapproving parents, jealousy, or grief, we feel it all. This was a story I won’t soon forget.

Editor's note: The high school book club agreed with Laura's assessment, and gave the book a rating of 8.5 out of 10. Personally, the book reminded me of some of the works of Mary Renault, especially Fire from Heaven, The Persian Boy, and The King Must Die. (Hint: That's a good thing!)

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