As a bonus, this book could have been made to fit a number of categories in my Literary Exploration challenge. It certainly has elements of fantasy and the supernatural. Some readers have really enjoyed the romance, but I have already ticked that genre off my list. And of course it would easily fulfil the historical fiction requirement. But on reflection I decided that this story of a skinny, shy boy who travels all over Greece overcoming all manner of obstacles and peril on the way, just to stand by his best friend, would be a perfect candidate for my adventure read.
Patroclus is a somewhat weedy and reserved child - a prince, yes, but of an often-overlooked Greek province, and forever a disappointment to his father. He brings ultimate shame on his family when he ends up exiled from the kingdom and is forced to go and live under another king who is known for his kindness in taking homeless and refugee boys under his wing. There he befriends the king's son, the infamous Achilles, half god and half man, who is prophesied to grow up to become the best warrior the world has ever known. The two soon become more than friends and Patroclus cannot help but follow him anywhere, over mountains and sea, as he fulfils his destiny as the most eminent fighter in the Trojan wars. He finds himself inextricably drawn into the perilous web that fate has spun for Achilles.
I have to admit that despite having a reasonably recent background in studying Greek to GCSE level, I haven't read any of The Iliad at all (our set texts were The Odyssey and The Murder Of Herodes) so despite having a vague idea of how things would unfold a lot of the story was new to me. If I can claim any familiarity with the legend at all, it's with Statius' version involving Achilles' notoriously vulnerable heel. I haven't even seen the glossy Brad Pitt Hollywood adaptation. I'm not sure how a prior knowledge of the outcome of the story would affect your enjoyment of this book, if at all.
Now from what I do know of this tale it seems Miller has done a great job of putting a new spin on it. She has managed to strike the perfect balance between friendship, romance, action and adventure. The extent of her research and her familiarity with the original text is obvious. She has managed to make the events feel fresh at the same time as remaining faithful to her source material. There is something relaxing and soothing about her writing style. There are echoes of Homer throughout the compelling lyrical prose and sparse, precise dialogue. Personally, I would have loved to see some Homeric epithets kept in ('swift-footed Achilles' etc) as an extra knowing nod to the original Greek.
Unfortunately I found neither of the main characters particularly likeable. Is this down to Miller or the way they are portrayed in the original Iliad? I don't know. Achilles comes across as quite obnoxious and egoistic...dare I say it, a bit of a spoiled brat! I guess that's possibly to be expected given the fact that he is the son of a goddess, but it certainly made me question the unwavering nature of Patroclus' devotion to him. Patroclus is wonderfully kind and compassionate, but for a large part of the book I wished he would stop mooning around and fawning over his lover and show a bit more gusto. The villains are portrayed wonderfully, though. The sea nymph Thetis, Achilles' mother, and his son Neoptolemus, sent a chill down my spine every time they appeared in a scene. All the kings and warriors sort of merged in to one and I found myself flicking back several times trying to remember how they were all related. But my favourite character of them all was Odysseus and I would love to read more about him. He just seemed like the perfect hero, with all the wit that Achilles lacked, and without so much bravado.
I know so many people who have adored this book and interestingly they are often people who have very varied and contemporary literary tastes; who I wouldn't necessarily expect to enjoy this Classical romance. So if your interest has been piqued at all it's definitely worth a try. I almost wish Miller had taken on The Odyssey instead as that is a story much closer to my heart and I loved her portrayal of Odysseus. Does anybody know of any modern re-tellings of the Odyssey? Please let me know as I'd be very keen to give them a try!