It seems a little presumptive to try and review Homer's Iliad, a tale almost 3000 years old and one of the great epics, if not the greatest epic, that the ancient world produced. Nor does the story need any introduction: the world over, people know of the legend of the Trojan War, of the young lovers Helen and Paris, and the two champions of the Greeks and the Trojans destined to die, Achilles and Hector. Such has been the impact of this timeless tale of love and war over the millennia, that most people will have heard of it through sheer cultural osmosis and readily understand references to an Achilles' heel or Helen as the face that launched a thousand ships, despite the fact that few of those will have actually read The Iliad. So, this isn't going to be my usual review format, but more a collections of thoughts and comments.
Like any story it has both positives and negatives, and whilst I would recommend The Iliad to anyone, it's only honest to mention all the features. Homer introduces a very wide cast of characters into the story, even outside the main characters, some of whom are mentioned once and then killed, and it can be a challenge to keep track of all the different names, though the recurring characters are strong enough to be readily memorable. Secondly, a key feature of Homer's style has always been a propensity towards asides and stories-within-stories. As a result, there are frequent points where he diverges from the actual main plot of The Iliad and will recount another tale in brief, usually in the form of a character retelling their former adventures and exploits. Sometimes this occurs as part of heroic etiquette; characters facing off on the battlefield decide to exchange lineages and adventures stories before one of them kills the other. This is all part of honourable form in the epic poem, but it's a tad unrealistic right in the middle of a raging battle and it does drag the pacing down somewhat since it goes from fast-paced, heated battle scene to lengthy recitation of lineage and former deeds; as a reader, you're in that fired up, battle scene mindset, and suddenly you just have to reset and readjust.
But, I would urge potential readers to stick with the story, and keep with it despite those two points. At its core, The Iliad is a masterful tale of love and war and the fine line between those two themes. In many ways, The Iliad is such a classic of literature because it is an allegory of ideas and concepts that are still highly relevant to us today. The characters within this tale ask the same questions as us about the nature of love, friendship, family, life, death and honour, and for me that really hit home the knowledge which as an historian I've come to learn many times over the years but is always worth repeating: people in the past may have lived in different times and different cultures and societies to us, but they were human exactly like us, and they pondered the same questions and experienced the same joys, sorrows and angst as we do in the present day. I think a lot of people consider history to be something of a boring subject and assume that the people of the past are so wildly different from us as to be almost alien and unrecognisable, but that isn't the case at all, and reading The Iliad, a story almost 3000 years old, that fact really resonates.
Another key feature of Homer's style, and one of my personal favourites, is his penchant and talent for description. Homer's descriptions are always very vivid and evocative, and they really stay with you - a fact I picked up on when I first read The Odyssey as a child and the memory of which has always stuck with me. The Iliad is crafted with the same wondrous descriptions and attention to detail. Homer also doesn't shy away from describing in full detail some pretty gory death scenes, but these are few and far between, and the seriousness and horror of these scenes never crosses the line into unpalatable.
The Iliad really is a must for any classicist or historian, but I would recommend it to absolutely anyone.
A note on this translation and edition. The late E. V. Rieu's introduction discusses Homer's style and what we know historically about both Homer and any possible Trojan War (though since Rieu wrote his introduction such studies have considerably moved on), the importance of The Iliad and finally the universal themes contained therein far better than I have here.