Madeline. Miller draws on her study of Greek mythology, the tale of Achilles and Patroclus to be precise, and breathes life, joyful and burning, into the tale.
Patroclus, a shy boy who accidentally kills a bully over a pair of dice is exiled from his father’s kingdom and fostered by King Peleus, Achilles’ father. At first Patroclus thinks Achilles is a snob, but slowly, subtly, as the two practice and room together, they become inseparable, and Patroclus becomes the softening force in Achilles’ life. Achilles, son of King Peleus and the sea nymph Thetis is torn between the world of the humans and the immortals. He is a perfect fighter, but his mother is determined to make him a god. She also detests his relationship with Patroclus, whom she deems unworthy of her son’s friendship.
As the two find themselves players in the Trojan War—Achilles’ as warrior, Patroclus as the man behind the warrior—tensions rise as King Agamemnon’s jealousy of Achilles’ feats and his reputation cause him to steal back Achilles war prizes. Furious, a prideful Achilles refuses to fight for Agamemnon, and the war turns, favoring the Trojans, who battle the Greeks back to the sea, where they will be killed or drown.
But Patroclus has a plan. Clad in Achilles’ armor, he leads the Greeks to the gates of Troy, where Hector, Troy’s favored son, kills him. Enraged, Achilles kills Hector and is in turn slain by Hector’s brother, Paris, aided by the god Apollo.
But the story doesn’t end there. Achilles’ son arrives, and the war continues to its bitter and brutal end, where Ms. Miller does not shy away from the savagery of ancient war.
There’s more, but why ruin the ending of what is essentially a good love story?
The myth of Aristos Achaion that we read in school was never so alive as this telling.