Historical Fiction Review: The Song of Achilles

Are you looking for a great literary historical read this summer? Here’s my review of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller for The Copperfield Review

By the way, we’re looking for readers who love to review historical fiction (you know who you are). If you’re a fan of historical fiction, check out Copperfield’s Submission Guidelines for how to submit your historical novel reviews. We’ll even pay you a bit (yes, it’s a little bit but it’s still a bit) for your trouble.

* * * * *

Written by Madeline Miller

Published by HarperCollins Publishers

Review by Meredith Allard

 

This is simply an outstanding piece of literature. Miller’s simple yet lyrical style pulls you effortlessly into the poetry of the Iliad. Here we focus on Achilles through the eyes of Patroclus, the young prince who is banished from his land for accidentally killing another boy and he is taken as a companion for Achilles. Patroclus and Achilles become partners in every way, and The Song of Achilles is really a love song between the two men. This isn’t simply an attraction between Patroclus and Achilles. This is a deep, abiding love that transcends death.

If you’re familiar with The Iliad (which you do not need to be to enjoy this book), then there are few surprises here except perhaps for the scope of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus. There is no twist-filled ending: the fate of the two men has been sung about throughout the centuries. Still, Miller ends this tale in a way that is perfectly heartbreaking, bittersweet, and right. Despite war, broken promises, and the loss of all one holds most dear, there can still be peace in the end.

This is not a retelling of the entire story of The Iliad. This is one version of one story as told through the eyes of the man who knew Achilles best. I’m looking forward to reading more from Madeline Miller.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Outlander—Who Knew?

Only millions of fans around the world, that’s who.

Outlander is one of those books I’ve been meaning to get to for years—I mean really, years. My interest was renewed since there has been so much hoopla over the Starz series, but since I don’t get Starz I haven’t been able to watch yet. I finally bought an ebook version for my Kindle two summers ago, but still it sat. It was one of those covers I kept looking at, but I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction lately and Outlander was a next time…next time…book for me.

I finally finished reading Outlander two days ago, and now I could kick myself for waiting so long to read it. I already have book number two downloaded onto my Kindle. The funny thing about Outlander is that so many of my Loving Husband Trilogy readers have asked if I’ve read Diana Gabaldon’s books, and a few asked if the Outlander series served as an inspiration for my own James and his beloved Sarah. Obviously, no, Outlander wasn’t an inspiration for the Loving Husband Trilogy since I’ve only just read the first in Gabaldon’s engrossing series.

There’s no need for a detailed synopsis of Outlander here since there are so many around. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story, 20th century inhabitant Claire Randall time travels to 18th century Scotland where she meets mighty hunky Jamie Fraser. The two certainly have their fair share of obstacles as they fall in love. Claire is torn as she has to decide between her life (and her husband) from the 20th century and Jamie. Don’t let this short description fool you. It’s a lengthy story with plenty of plot twists.

Having read the book, now I can see why readers have asked if Outlander was an inspiration for the Loving Husband Trilogy. I can see why both series would appeal to the same readers. Both are stories about a love that spans centuries. Both feature a James (yes, in the Loving Husband Trilogy Sarah calls him Jamie). My James’ last name is Wentworth, the prison in Outlander—a silly point but one I thought I’d make anyway. Both are historical fiction, though the Loving Husband books go back and forth between present day Salem, Massachusetts and their historical periods—the Salem Witch Trials, the Trail of Tears, and the Japanese-American internments, respectively. Outlander is an actual time travel novel, as in Claire travels from the 20th century back to the 18th century. Her Dear & Loving Husband isn’t really a time travel novel, although Sarah certainly experiences time travel-like elements. Fans know what I mean. There’s the psychic reading in both stories–Claire has her tea leaves read, which gives her some glimpse of her future, and Sarah has her palm read by Olivia Phillips, everyone’s favorite motherly witch, which gives Sarah a glimpse of her future. Claire suffers at the hands of those who will brand her a witch, as does Sarah, or should I say Elizabeth. There certainly are differences. My James is more an intellectual than a warrior, though he has his moments, and if he’s not exactly human, well, no one’s perfect. I do think my James would look pretty damn good in a kilt, but I digress… If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that I had read Outlander before writing Her Dear & Loving Husband.

I remember when I was a kid and I would get totally lost in the many books I read. I lived on the prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder and I sat on that farm alongside Wilbur and Charlotte. The older I’ve grown, the more difficult it has become to become totally lost in a book in that way. Outlander is the first book in years where I felt as though I was totally escaping my real world while reading. Simply as an historical novel it’s worth five stars for the way it sweeps you into 18th century Scotland. Gabaldon weaves Claire and Jamie’s story through twists and turns like a master writer. If you love historical fiction, you will love Outlander, and, I’m sure, the subsequent books. If you love a good love story thrown in, all the better.

Book One in the Outlander series down, seven more to go!

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

My Summer Reading List

There’s always something special about summer reading. Of course I read during the school year, but with everything I have to do for my teaching and coursework there isn’t as much time to read for pleasure as I’d like.

Normally, I read a lot of fiction, mainly historical fiction (surprised, right?), but this summer I was bitten by the Hamilton: An American Musical bug like so many of you. Not only have I listened to the soundtrack more times than I can count (I’m pretty sure at this point I could perform all the roles in the show), but more than loving the rhythmic music and the eloquent lyrics, listening to Hamilton reminds me of the days when I taught U.S. History. I remember glossing over Alexander Hamilton in the American Revolution lessons saying, “Oh yeah, that’s the guy who was shot and killed by Aaron Burr” and not thinking much more of him than that. Man, was I wrong about Hamilton. He was one interesting dude. My interest in Hamilton the musical reignited my interest in early American history, so most of my reading this summer has been biography driven.

Here’s my reading list this summer so far:

Alexander HamiltonIn keeping with my American Revolution theme, I’ve read the Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow as well as Chernow’s biography Washington: A Life. Here’s the interesting thing: George Washington, the first president, the father of his country, was not the most endearing person in the world, at least not to me. He was a great man, Washington, and the fact that we even have a United States is due in large part to Washington’s leadership. Still, Alexander Hamilton, even with his fiery temperament (or because of his fiery temperament) is the more interesting man. But I’m still glad I read the Washington biography. Chernow made me rethink George Washingtoneverything I thought I knew about George Washington, which is a good thing. Too often we just accept the stories we hear about our leaders without taking the time to read for ourselves and form our own judgments.

Another biography I’ve read this summer is Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. I have to say I’m kind of digging on Benjamin Franklin right now. He wasn’t perfect—no one is—but I have to say he’s my favorite Benjamin Franklinfounding father. If all he ever did was make his discoveries about electricity, that alone would be enough for us to know his name. He was stubborn, determined, gregarious, but most of all he was damn funny, which scores points with me every time.

Never whereI haven’t been reading much fiction this summer, which is unusual for me, but the one novel I have read is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. I had read Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane last year and really enjoyed the story’s magical realism, and I’m so glad I tried Neverwhere. You can call Neverwhere a Harry Potter for adults with the invisible underground stations and parallel lives in different dimensions, but that would be too simplistic to explain this quirky dark fairy tale. I already have Gaiman’s American Gods downloaded onto my Kindle.
I’ve also read Goddesses Goddesses Never AgeNever Age by Dr. Christiane Northrup. The book is a positive look at aging as it talks about staying active, being healthy, and not believing that your body has to break down just because you pass a certain birthday. The older I get, the more I appreciate that message.

I still have a few more weeks of summer so I can fit in a few more books!

SaveSave