I’m currently trying to review every single book I’ve read this year but months after I read them, so I apologise in advance if half the stuff I write is a) inaccurate, or b) potentially not even about this book. My brain doesn’t work sometimes.
I got this book because reading Rick Riordan’s books gave me an obsession with Greek mythology and this is a new take on the Iliad, an epic poem about some of the significant events of the Trojan War. As this is arguably one of the most important/iconic events in Greek history, learning more about it felt like a good place to start.
Spoiler alert: this book broke me.
+ It’s beautifully written
It took me a while to get into this book: there’s a lot of history and mythology and a load of facts and details about the world right at the start, but it’s all essential to telling the rest of the story. Looking back at it now, I don’t mind the information dump and how it was just getting everything out of the way, but at the time I almost put the book down. That was until I was a few chapters in. Then I was captivated. Madeline Miller has a beautifully poetic style of writing and she took legends and brought them to life within the pages. She never really goes into much detail about Patroclus and Achilles’ relationship but subtlety is what made every single moment they shared together so wonderful.
+ It’s honest
In a lot of historical fiction, the rough edges of ancient cultures usually get smoothed away. Slaves are treated well, and women are given a voice, and that’s what we want to read about, but it’s not often what was actually happening at the time. The story is full of sexism and misogyny and rape is mentioned almost offhand because, to these characters and in this time, these things were common. They were expected. It’s putting the facts into the fiction, although this does mean that this book won’t be for everyone.
+ L o v e
Miller stayed true to the homosexuality in the Iliad (and the gayness of ancient Greece in general) instead of hiding away from it. Achilles and Patroclus were in love which is what resulted in their destruction. They weren’t just friends or soldiers in a war: they were soul mates. Their relationship is built up throughout the entire book and throughout their entire lives together and delivered so beautifully that I fell in love with their love. Patroclus was enamoured by Achilles when they first met as children and they never wanted to be parted from each other, even as they grew up together, fought together, and became inseparable. But they still had issues, and they fought for and against each other. Patroclus wanted to end the war and Achilles wanted a bigger one, one worthy enough for him to fight in.
This is a story driven by love, but not defined by it. It’s so exceptionally beautiful and painful and magical and devastating. And that’s all I have to say on that.
• “I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”
• “In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”
• “There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?”
• “He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”
(I feel like everyone should know that I teared up just reading through the quotes. I read this book nine months ago and it still owns my soul.)