02 March 2012

Imprint Friday: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Ecco books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

I first learned about Greek mythology and The Illiad and The Odyssey in sixth grade, and I've been fascinated ever since. Madeline Miller has also had a lifelong love affair with the ancient Greeks, their gods, and their tales. The result for Miller is her debut novel The Song of Achilles; for me, it's the pleasure of reading her work.

Here's the publisher's summary:

The legend begins . . .

Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the kingdom of Phthia to be raised in the shadow of King Peleus and his golden son, Achilles. “The best of all the Greeks”—strong, beautiful, and the child of a goddess—Achilles is everything the shamed Patroclus is not. Yet despite their differences, the boys become steadfast companions. Their bond deepens as they grow into young men and become skilled in the arts of war and medicine—much to the displeasure and the fury of Achilles’ mother, Thetis, a cruel sea goddess with a hatred of mortals.

When word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, the men of Greece, bound by blood and oath, must lay siege to Troy in her name. Seduced by the promise of a glorious destiny, Achilles joins their cause, and torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus follows. Little do they know that the Fates will test them both as never before and demand a terrible sacrifice.

Built on the groundwork of the Iliad, Madeline Miller’s page-turning, profoundly moving, and blisteringly paced retelling of the epic Trojan War marks the launch of a dazzling career.
I've only just started reading The Song of Achilles, but it's the kind of book that you open to the first page just to see what it's going to be like, and suddenly 40 pages later you realize you're already hooked, already immersed in the world of the ancient Greeks. I think it's Miller's lovely mix of rigorous research with her emotional and personal connection to Homer's Illiad that draws us.

Miller's version of the Trojan War focuses on the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus, told from the latter's point of view, and begins years before Helen is abducted / runs away. In the following quote, the boys' relationship is just beginning:
I saw then how I had changed. I did not mind anymore that I lost when we raced and I lost when we swam out to the rocks and I lost when we tossed spears or skipped stones. For who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty? It was enough to watch him win, to see the soles of his feet flashing as they kicked up sand, or the rise and fall of his shoulders as he pulled through the salt. It was enough. (p. 51)
I'm no scholar of the ancient Greeks, but I'm familiar with The Illiad, and I love that Miller has made Homer so accessible while remaining respectful of the original. I'm impressed with the beauty of her writing and that she has not diluted the tale but has made it more.

Here are some other opinions (click the links for the full reviews):
  • Meghan at Medieval Bookworm: "This is truly a fantastic retelling, one that manages to be both timeless and relevant."
  • Publisher's Weekly: "With language both evocative of her predecessors and fresh, and through familiar scenes that explore new territory, this first-time novelist masterfully brings to life an imaginative yet informed vision of ancient Greece."
  • Natalie Haynes for The Guardian: "Miller spent 10 years writing this book, yet her smooth prose conceals the painstaking research she has clearly put into it. This is a deeply affecting version of the Achilles story"
The Song of Achilles is an Indie Next pick for March 2012. For more on Madeline Miller, read her interview with Gregory Maguire, visit her website, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.

Beth Fish Reads is proud to showcase Ecco books as a featured imprint on this blog. For more information about Ecco, please read the introductory note from Vice President / Associate Publisher Rachel Bressler, posted here on July 15, 2011. Find your next great read by clicking on Ecco in the scroll-down topics/labels list in my sidebar and by visiting Ecco books on Facebook and following them on Twitter.

The Song of Achilles at Powell's
The Song of Achilles at Book Depository
These links lead to affiliate programs.

Published by HarperCollins / Ecco, March 6, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780062060617


Julie P. 3/2/12, 8:41 AM  

I am extremely interested in mythology so this might be a great one for me.

bermudaonion 3/2/12, 9:22 AM  

I bet Vance would love this book!

Zibilee 3/2/12, 10:43 AM  

My son happens to be going through a phase of reading a lot of mythology right now, and has just gotten about halfway through Bullfinch's Mythology, so I am betting that this book would be perfect for him. Thanks for sharing it here today. I need to buy it for him this weekend.

Unknown 3/2/12, 3:14 PM  

Lots of good mythology adaptations out right now. Oppression, by Jessica Therrien, launched this week as well. Looking forward to adding this one to my list.

Michael Kindness 3/2/12, 6:23 PM  

Love, love, LOVE this book!

Carole 3/3/12, 8:50 PM  

Great blog, Beth. Interesting review. I mainly read novels. But occasionally I dip into non-fiction. The best book I have read for years is by a doctor called Atul Gawande. The title is Better. I did a post about it. http://caroleschatter.blogspot.co.nz/2011/11/better-by-atul-gawande.html

Meghan 3/4/12, 9:34 AM  

Loved this book! Can't wait for your final thoughts.

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