Length: 352 pages
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 companionship 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’s mother Thetis, a cruel and deathly pale 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.
Here’s what I thought:
I really, really loved this book. Despite the fact that I was participating in Care’s readalong of the book, I found it hard to set any kind of pace for my reading of it. Instead, I read it in a couple of long stretches because I just couldn’t put it down. So it was a fast read for me but a really moving one, and I cried at the ending. A lot.
Although I was familiar with many of the surrounding myths and characters, I didn’t really know the story of Achilles that well, so I’m not sure how the reading experience would be different for someone who already knows what is going to happen. The choice of Patroclus as the main character and narrator is an interesting one, because we see Achilles through his eyes rather than as the renowned hero that everyone else sees. Patroclus is essentially an average guy, for all that he is born a prince, and Achilles is both his friend and lover.
I loved the development of the character of Patroclus throughout the course of the novel, and although the ending is definitely tragic, it’s also beautiful in its way. Miller doesn’t shy away from the harshness of the world of the Ancient Greeks, and only someone who is an expert in the classics could have written such a confident, human version of this tale. I was left hoping that she will write more, and soon!
The most touching aspect of the story for me is definitely the relationship between Patroclus and Achilles. I asked the question on Twitter if it was because of their relationship that Patroclus becomes a great man (“the best of the Achaians”). Although Achilles himself does not evolve in such a positive way, the unconditional love that he feels for Patroclus remains a constant, and I think it’s because of this love that Patroclus is able to rise above a traumatic childhood to become a truly great man. They make each other better people, which to me is pretty much the perfect definition of a good relationship.
Some favorite quotes:
I conjure the boy I knew. Achilles, grinning as the figs blur in his hands. His green eyes laughing into mine. Catch, he says. Achilles, outlined against the sky, hanging from a branch over the river. The thick warmth of his sleepy breath against my ear. If you have to go, I will go with you. My fears forgotten in the golden harbor of his arms. The memories come, and come. She listens, staring into the grain of the stone. We are all there, goddess and mortal and the boy who was both.
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.