When you think of Ancient Greece, you don't think of advanced technology, and you hopefully don't think of "Wrath of the Titans." Instead, you recall gods and heroic tales, and that's exactly what's found in "The Song of Achilles" by Madeline Miller. But this ambitious retelling of the story of Homer's "Iliad" also embraces the technological advancements of the modern age within the enhanced e-book edition ($14.99), albeit with some tragic missteps.
This 384-page hardback book from Harper Collins' Ecco imprint will run you $25.99, while the e-book is just $12.99. And for $2 more, the enhanced edition adds some interesting extras for the Nook Tablet or Color, Amazon's Kindle Fire or the iPad. We got some hands-on time with the enhanced version on the Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet, but came away disappointed that the so-called enhancements didn't match the story's grandeur.
"The Song of Achilles" offers a promising technological start, presenting the reader with eight videos of discussions between Miller and Gregory Maguire, author of the "Wicked" series. Having tackled a retelling of the "Wizard of Oz" fairy tale himself, Maguire makes a sympathetic and compelling interviewer. The discussions help the reader understand Miller's point of view and inspirations for the book, including her gratitude to Shakespeare. Then the reader is propelled into the story.
Told from the point of view of Patroclus, a companion of the demi-god Achilles, the story takes a fresh approach to the Mycenaean attack on Troy. It is, in essence, a love story that takes on a soft-porn, "Sweet Valley High" quality during the youth and education of Achilles and Patroclus. But it's set in a historically magical world filled with sea nymphs and centaurs. As Miller's first novel, it's an enjoyable read, that stayed on the New York Time's hardback best-seller list for about a month after it was released at the very end of March. But that popularity didn't translate over to e-books sales, and from our experience with the enhanced version, we know why.
Each chapter starts out with a delightful audio excerpt that is taken from the audio version of the book as read by Frazer Douglas (Available on Audible.com for $24.99). There are 33 clips in all. The author's fine baritone and the carefully selected sections of the story combine to offer a very compelling reason to keep reading. The audio excerpts were our favorite part of the enhancements, but they weren't without hiccup. For instance, the introductory clip to chapter 13 unfortunately foretells a scene far later in the story.
Within the body of the text, names of 40 gods and other immortals such as Thetis and Zeus are hyperlinked to full-color illustrations at the end of the book that explain each character's historical significance. Each image is meant to look as though it were drawn on aged papyrus. There are also illustrations at the end that detail the Greek's armor and ships. However, these pop-ups do not fit on the Nook Tablet's screen, and some of the descriptions are poorly edited.
For instance, clicking on Chiron's name in chapter seven, brings you to a page that only shows about a quarter of the page. Double tapping opens the pop-up, which you can pinch to zoom and fit in the screen. Then, when you're reading, you'll find a duplicate phrase among the three sentences on the page. And when you close the pop-up there's no easy way back to your page in the book, unless you thought to bookmark it before you left.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller is an interesting take on the life and times of Achilles and the Greeks who took on Troy, but unfortunately the enhanced e-book leaves much to be desired. If you're dying for more than just the simple text, we recommend downloading the audio book and letting Frazer's wonderful accent take you on a journey around the ancient world.