Full disclosure, for anyone who has been paying attention to the count on this blog for how many books I’ve been reading, turns out I’ve been miscounting… for quite some time now. So, Song of Achilles was actually number 25 for the year! This was another TikTok recommendation from the will ‘destroy your soul’ list but I had been on a bit of a sad book kick lately so I thought this would round the list out nicely.
An awful summary attempt
The story opens with Patroclus, our narrator, as a child with his father who is a king, taking him to bid for Helen of Troy’s hand in marriage, despite the fact he is only nine. This sets the scene for how cruel and dismissive Patroclus’s father is because he considers his son to be ‘weak’ and ‘soft’. All the men who attended to ask for Helen’s hand were sworn into an oath, promise to come in aid of Helen and her husband to be and to never start a war against their fellow men who have sworn this oath.
When Patroclus accidentally kills another boy, his father seizes on the opportunity to get rid of him and exiles him from the kingdom, the highest form of shame upon him. Patroclus is taken in by a king in a neighbouring kingdom, who is famously kind and generous, taking in exiled boys from all over Greece. Conveniently, all these boys from prominent families are trained to be soldiers in his care but there you go.
This where he meets Achilles, who is the son of the king and Sea God. Patroclus and Achilles are very different in disposition, rank and even right down to their social skills but somehow Achilles is drawn to him. When Patroclus is caught by Achilles doing something he shouldn’t, he convinces him to lie on his behalf and through this they become fast friends. A lot of Achilles life has been shrouded in mystery due to a prophecy that had been made about him before he was born, saying that he would the greatest warrior even known. Patroclus becomes Achilles companion, attending all his lessons with him and living in the same room of the palace as him. Eventually, Achilles is sent away to train with the centaur who trained Hercules himself, called Chiron, and Patroclus follows him there, despite knowing he would never want to fight as a soldier, he just follows Achilles. As they train far from family and judgment the boys start to realise they feel for each other more than friends.
While they are there, war is brewing, with the famous Helen help captive in the city of Troy, meaning that all the kingdoms that sworn the oath are called to arms to rescue her. At Patroclus’s request, Achilles tries to delay going to war, sharing his distaste for killing but knowing it’s his destiny. When they do eventually join the war, the prophecy is shown to be true, Achilles is the greatest warrior ever seen but there is second part of the prophecy that is only revealed later; Achilles will die in this war at the hands of one of the sons of Troy.
Soon amongst the grossly setting of a long drawn out war, where Achilles is exulted by is fellow soldiers, that fame and reputation becomes more important to Achilles that the actions he is doing to retain it. He becomes more concerned with the legend of Achilles that he will leave behind, rather than the morality of his behaviour, which strains his relationships with Patroclus. When his hubris becomes too much, Patroclus becomes desperate to save the person he loves, so he takes extreme measures to keep Achilles safe that eventually become his undoing.
(sorry that was long, A LOT happens in this book even though it’s really short!)
I liked this book very much! It’s a nice cross between being told like an ancient myth and a modern narrative. It was interesting take to hear the entire legend of Achilles from a different perspective and it really leans into that really effective aspect of Greek tragedy with Achilles pride ending up being his tragic flaw, or his ‘Achilles heel’.
I will say, it isn’t as sad as I was prepared for it to be. Patroclus’ and Achilles’ love story is heart achingly beautiful and written really authentically; at least, that’s how it felt to me as a straight women but from what I see on Tik Tok, this is a shared opinion.
There is a lot of characters in this book to keep up with and if you aren’t very familiar with Greek myths, you’ll find it even harder. This definitely not an easy read for when you are tired, this is a nice holiday read for sure.