‘The Song of Achilles’: A Rolling Review That Will Keep You on Edge

Cover of 'The Song of Achilles' on cream background with olive leaves pattern.

Before I dive into reviewing Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles, I need to explain to you the rules of the game. I decided to adopt an alternative review format for this particular book because I had feelings. Feelings I did not want to forget by the end of it. So I thought I’d do something I like to call a ‘rolling review’. Inspired by rolling news, the rolling review involves giving you updates as I’m progressing through the book, instead of writing an overall piece once I finish it. Rolling news, accordingly, means updating a news story as it unfolds, a common task for news reporters.

So here’s what you should expect from this rolling review. I will be pausing every 50 pages to do a reading check-in, where I share a short snippet of my thoughts thus far. I will not give any spoilers, only my feelings as the story progresses, based on vague information about the plot, and what you should expect at each milestone. Much like a reading vlog, this review will allow you to come along with me on this reading journey and see how I’m experiencing the book.

While you’re here, if The Song of Achilles has been on your list for a while (and honestly, if not, I strongly advise adding it), why not bookmark this article and read it with me? Stopping every 50 or 100 pages to see if we’re on the same…page. That would be a fun experience.

Without further ado, then, as they say, here’s your rolling review, or reading vlog in written format, if you will.

50 Pages In (13/06/2021, 6:23 pm)

I can’t believe the story has pulled me in so soon. This never happens to me, especially with a historical/mythology-focused book. I genuinely thought I won’t enjoy The Song of Achilles simply because I prefer modern-day settings. Boy, was I wrong. I’m fascinated with how people go about their day in Ancient Greece. I think Patroclus has a lot of potential but his father holds him back. King or not, Menoetius is an awful parent even for his time. I’m not a fan of the graphic scene describing how Achilles was conceived and I have all the sympathy for the goddess Thetis, his mother. Achilles seems to be a wonderful boy, but so far there are only glimpses.

At this moment in the book, you should expect to become familiar with the characters and the setting, and with the dynamics between the most powerful people in Ancient Greece.

100 Pages In (14/06/2021, 4:32 pm)

Oh my god. That’s all I can say. There’s a specific scene I cannot stop thinking about. I’m a little anxious, as stopping just as I reached 100 pages means I stopped on a cliffhanger. I’ve come to know Achilles much more closely and, to no one’s surprise, he is just as wonderful as I thought. I like the atmosphere at Peleus’s palace and how Achilles is portrayed as a half-god even through the smallest things. He’s not arrogant, though, which makes him all the more likable. As the friendship between Patroclus and Achilles deepens, I can’t help but be scared for them. There’s definitely more than friendship there, and this is not a spoiler. 

By now, you should expect to have a fully-formed idea of the characters and their relationship. There’s a lot of anxiety and uncertainty at this point in the story, but also many beautiful moments.

150 Pages In (14/06/2021, 5:41 pm)

I know this is a myth retelling and it probably will stay true to how Achilles’s story unfolded, but I don’t like where things are headed and I can’t help but hope for a twist. I definitely recommend avoiding the original myth before diving into the book. I only have vague memories of where it’s going, and don’t want to know more. At this point, you should be feeling a lot of concern, tension, uncertainty, and a little bit of hope.

200 Pages In (14/06/2021, 8:53 pm)

Things are starting to become more action-packed in true, Ancient Greek spirit, but I’m so absorbed by Achilles and Patroclus’s relationship that I almost don’t care about the rest of the story. It’s the sweetest, most circumstance-defying romance I’ve read recently and I love how Miller handles it. It’s not overly romanticised, nor overly oppressed, which makes it more believable and easy to root for. Achilles is destined to be the greatest warrior of his time (not a spoiler), but I find it hard to imagine him in war, as he’s so gentle and thoughtful. The only thing I don’t like about him is his thirst for glory. 

By now, you should start asking yourself: would you choose to be immortalised in history but compromise your values, or would you opt for an ordinary but happy life with the person you love?

250 Pages In (16/06/2021, 2:45 pm)

The war (not a spoiler) is getting intense, and as the ending is closing in, I’m growing more and more anxious. Everything seems to be going too well. My only objection is that, by now, Achilles is becoming a little obsessed with glory and fame. From a purely critical point of view, so far, the character arcs for the protagonists have been handled masterfully. Patroclus is evolving in a wonderful and admirable way, while Achilles is moving further and further from the beautiful and kind half-human boy who didn’t want to become a god.

By now, you’ll have come to appreciate Miller’s writing technique and how well she’s handling the characters, the tension, and the story to build anticipation.

300 Pages In (18/06/2021, 1:45 pm)

Hints are dropping left and right of what will happen by the end, and one of them, in particular, has broken my heart a little bit. If what I’m expecting will happen, the story will take an unforeseen twist, and I’m curious to see how Miller will handle the story from then on. The war continues, but Achilles has taken a disastrous decision. He’s becoming less and less like himself, yet there’s still a lot to love in him. By now, you should be feeling a lot of anxiety and start forming theories about how the story will wrap up.

376 Pages In (18/06/2021, 3:05 pm) — the end

Okay, that wasn’t as horrific as I thought it would be. The ending was unexpected, so I will advise you to never trust your instincts, and especially not trust the characters when giving you hints of where the story is going. It will take you by surprise until the last page. 

Since I’ve finished it, I’ll wrap up my overall thoughts. I gave it 5/5 stars on Goodreads without batting an eye and I’m pretty sure it will make my top 5 books of 2021. The Song of Achilles was a stunning read, through and through. From the setting to the romance, to the character growth, to the writing style, to how it ended, Madeline Miller proved she is a masterful author. Nothing was out of place, nothing was left uncertain, or unresolved, everything wrapped up smoothly, while still keeping the surprise and tension until the very end.

I loved how, despite it being set in Ancient Greece and Troy, the author didn’t go out of her way to oppress the love between Patroclus and Achilles just to stay true to the era. There were many challenges that stood against their relationship, don’t get me wrong, but they overcame them gracefully, and in a plausible way. Everyone silently knew these men were in love and there was a quiet respect for their feelings that I appreciated. The point of the story wasn’t to do everything to keep them apart, but rather to allow them to stay together in spite of everything that stood against them.

I recommend The Song of Achilles with all my heart, it’s been a while since I read such an incredibly well-written book. It left me with that feeling of satisfaction you only ever get after you read the work of a truly talented and skilled author.

Did you enjoy this book review? Read more about what books inspired and moved us on our Book Reviews page. And if you want to support independent journalism, please consider doing so through our Donations page. Thank you for reading!

Published by Eliza Lita

Founder and editor-in-chief: Coffee Time Reviews. Freelance writer and Higher Ed comms person.

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