Greece in the age of heroes. Patroclus, an awkward young prince, has been exiled to the court of King Peleus and his perfect son Achilles. Despite their difference, Achilles befriends the shamed prince, and as they grow into young men skilled in the arts of war and medicine, their bond blossoms into something deeper – despite the displeasure of Achilles’ mother Thetis, a cruel sea goddess.
But when word comes that Helen of Sparta has been kidnapped, Achilles must go to war in distant Troy and fulfill his destiny. Torn between love and fear for his friend, Patroclus goes with him, little knowing that the years that follow will test everything they hold dear.
Patroclus is a bit of a damsel in distress. He is Achilles’ shadow, trailing after him like a lost puppy. This is tiresome. Patroclus’ is especially uncompelling when he plays the sidekick. He did have his own talents, particularly in medicine, but these are very rarely showcased. It isn’t until much later in the book that we realize the importance of Patroclus’ role, though small.
Achilles is a hero, he is vain and prideful, and overall not very likeable even through Patroclus’ love hazed point of view. In the end even Patroclus’ is aware of his downfalls. My favourite part of their relationship came when Patroclus, hardened by war and tragedy, started to see Achilles as he was and not as the boy he had fallen in love with more than a decade ago.
This is, at its core, a romance novel. I felt that because their love is ideal and unbreakable it is taken for granted, that their affection for each other should actually be shown more frequently. Their romantic relationship feels like a natural progression of their friendship. There is no indecision or sexual tension, they just fall into each other. For this I have to praise the author. She does a remarkable job of making the relationship the basis of the novel without it becoming overpowering.
I would have loved to see some actual bloodshed. This is a novel that is set during probably the most famous battle in Greek mythology and yet we rarely got to be on the battlefield. The author had so many opportunities to bring this conflict to life, and while she did do a good job of evoking mythology, the conflict around which the novel centres is unfathomable for the reader because Patroclus is regulated to the sidelines, at least until his death.
The ending, which of course we already know is going to end in tragedy, is all doom and gloom. If you were hoping for a reprieve you are going to be sorely disappointed. And yet even though I knew how it was going to end, I felt like I got punched in the gut during the few final scenes. This for me was Achilles’ redeeming moment, in his grief he is inconsolable and it is impossible not to be moved by his devotion to Patroclus.