Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review: The Song of Achilles

There are times when I start reading a book really wanting to like it, but no matter how hard I try to put aside the little things that irk me, it just ends up a disappointing mess. I'm saddened that The Song of Achilles happened to be one of these instances.

I should start by saying that I am a HUGE Trojan War nerd. I've read most of the books out there, and I can describe parts of the epic in such detail that I can see people's eyes glaze over as they listen to me talk about it. But of course, that means I hold books about the Trojan War up to pretty high standards. And I know that my idea of the characters are going to be different from someone else's interpretation of them. But I found Miller's Patroclus so weak that I had a hard time caring.

My problems with Patroclus started very early. In most accounts, Patroclus kills a friend, and he and his father go into exile to escape. Here, Patroclus' father is shamed by his act and sends his only son far away. Much later, Patroclus proves he doesn't have much skill on the battlefield and spends his days in camp with the women (only later finding any use for his time in the healer's tent). These weak characterizations just don't jibe with my idea of Patroclus, and I found myself struggling against them every step of the way. I had no indication of why Achilles cared so much for him.

The story itself is fine, following Patroclus from his youth through his upbringing with Achilles to the Trojan War itself. That's a lot of ground to cover, but Miller moves things along well. Achilles himself felt a bit bland to me, but I loved his mother Thetis, who was the perfect blend of cold and calculating and overprotective. And I'm still confused by Briseis, who plays such a pivotal role in Achilles' motivation. There are a lot of characters to keep straight, and if you're not already knowledgeable about the story, you might have a little trouble, but the appendix should sort you out.

I guess that my biggest issue overall was that I just had a hard time caring - about people, about actions, about consequences. Miller's writing is beautiful (aside from some discrepancies with tense usage, but that should fall to an editor to fix), and I can't wait to see a story from her that I don't already know so well.

Buy The Song of Achilles on Amazon
Buy The Song of Achilles on Indie Bound