This is going to be the first book I’ve taken the time to write about that I did not finish. Usually when I DNF a book I just pop onto Goodreads, leave a pithy comment, and go on my way. This one, I felt, deserved a little more attention. The Song of Achilles is currently sitting at a 4.26 rating on Goodreads and nearly every review I read was over the moon about this book. I figured it would be a slam dunk. Historical fiction? Love it. Greek? One of my favorite eras. Achilles? One of the most bad ass warriors in antiquity. Why wouldn’t I love this book? Let me explain…
This book isn’t a story about Achilles’ prowess on the battlefield. It is, in fact, not even told form his perspective. How are you going to title a book “Achilles” and then not tell the story from his POV? Instead we are introduced to the character Patroclus. Patroclus is the son of a wealthy ruler and his mentally unstable wife. His father has always been displeased with Patroclus because while other noble sons are strong, fast, and impressive Patrcolus is small, quiet, and (the father suspects) a bit slow. In my opinion he also had all the personality of a dead fish.
After Patroclus accidentally kills another boy he is forced into exile by his father. He finds himself at the palace of another ruler. I can’t remember his name and can’t be bothered to jog downstairs to grab the book to find it. This fellow collects the exiled children and trains them as warriors for his army. There, Patroclus meets Achilles who is the ruler’s son.
Achilles is admired by all the cast off children who clamor for his attention or praise. Achilles, however, gives his attention to Patroclus, the boy who is obviously terrible in combat training and doesn’t talk to anyone. Achilles chooses to make Patroclus his companion. Patroclus now instead of training with the other kids spends his time going to lessons with Achilles and accompanying him wherever he goes.
It is evident early on in their friendship that there are underlying romantic feelings. Once that point is made evident, that is all the story really focuses on for chapter after chapter. The Song of Achilles is not a story about a magnificent warrior. It is about two young people who fall in love and the trials and tribulations that can come from that. Maybe I should have read the other reviews a little more closely before picking this one up. I don’t like love stories. Had I been aware that this was a love story I would not have read it.
Now, I want to make clear that I do not give a donkey’s behind that the romantic aspect of this story is of a homosexual nature. I don’t care. I just wanted to make it perfectly clear that the reason I dislike this book was because of the story itself, not because of the nature of the romantic relationship. It is ridiculous that I have to bring this up but I will not have someone jumping down my throat about LGBT acceptance. Achilles could have fallen for a woman and the story would have been equally dull. Or he could have been into a perverted dendrophilia or have sexual thoughts about sheep. It still would have been dull. The nature of the sexual relationship of the story is not what made it bad for me. Are we absolutely clear? Good. Moving on.
Achilles spends years in training to be the best warrior that has ever lived. We don’t get to read about his training, mostly get told that he is doing it. For this to be a story with Achilles you know that Troy must become involved at some point. So, after 3/4 of the book where nothing worth noting happens, Achilles and Patroclus find themselves along the beaches outside the city of Troy. A massive army of Greeks has come to reclaim Helen and return her to her husband. Once more we are told that Achilles goes off to battle but we don’t get to see anything of it. He comes back to his tent and to Patroclus covered in blood but once more the focus of the story is their relationship, not Achilles deeds.
This is where I threw in the towel. Maybe the rest of the story is wonderful and exciting and everything I hoped it would be. I’m not going to be finding out. You know when you start watching a movie or TV series and most of it is boring and monotonous? You don’t continue watching it, do you? That is how I felt about this book. It was monotonous. The ratings for this story are mostly all positive and that is wonderful. I love that a book that features a healthy LGBT relationship is so accepted and appreciated. My problem, I think, is that I just don’t like a love story.
“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.”