Title: A Thousand Ships
Author: Natalie Haynes
Published: January 26th, 2021 (Harper)
Synopsis: This is the women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s. They have waited long enough for their turn . . .
This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of them all…
In the middle of the night, a woman wakes to find her beloved city engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over. Troy has fallen.
From the Trojan women whose fates now lie in the hands of the Greeks, to the Amazon princess who fought Achilles on their behalf, to Penelope awaiting the return of Odysseus, to the three goddesses whose feud started it all, these are the stories of the women whose lives, loves, and rivalries were forever altered by this long and tragic war.
A woman’s epic, powerfully imbued with new life, A Thousand Ships puts the women, girls and goddesses at the center of the Western world’s great tale ever told.
“A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?”
Stories centered around the Trojan War have always interested me, so when I first heard of this book, it was an instant addition to my TBR. I love The Iliad and The Odyssey, but it has always annoyed me that the originals never bother to focus on or give voice to the women in the story, relegating them to little more than side characters. As such, this was a very welcome and much needed addition to see this story through a perspective that is less male-dominated. Besides, when a book is compared to Madeline Miller’s works, it’s hardly possible for me to resist it. A Thousand Ships reads almost like an anthology, with each chapter focusing on a different woman of Greece or Troy and their part in the events during and after the war, with some repeating POVs. Some of these stories are familiar ones, like those of Clytemnestra, Andromache, Iphigenia and Cassandra, while others are less well known. I found it quite ironic that Helen who is said to be the face that launched a thousand ships, has perhaps the least page time, appearing only as part of the experiences of the Trojan women in the company of Queen Hecabe with only one major scene – but all in all a fitting choice I think.
“But this is a women’s war, just as much as it is the men’s, and the poet will look upon their pain – the pain of the women who have always been relegated to the edges of the story, victims of men, survivors of men, slaves of men – and he will tell it, or he will tell nothing at all. They have waited long enough for their turn.”
My favourite was the muse Calliope, who appears every few chapters as she inspires the poet, acting as the narrator of sorts for the entire book, directing the reader’s attention from character to character, while at the same time, giving her rather witty opinions on the whole affair (she really doesn’t like Helen). Equally interesting was this version of the golden apple episode between the goddesses Hera, Athene and Aphrodite that indirectly triggered the Trojan War and this portrayal of the gods was a curious one, to see them all acting so childishly and driven by mortal emotions like jealousy and vengeance – only to learn that they were being manipulated by another all along to bring about this exact chain of events.
Initially, I didn’t really see the point of giving Penelope a POV, since all that seemed to be happening was a recounting of Odysseus’ adventures which are quite well known. But this Penelope, I felt, revealed a much more realistic personality than what is described of her in other versions, as she starts to get more than a little annoyed with her husband’s continuing adventures that seem to bring him no closer to home, and particularly his various dalliances – her rants are actually quite amusing, but also make you think of the famous tales in a very different way – Odysseus wasn’t all that great when the story is seen from this angle was he?
The only thing about this book I wasn’t too fond of was that the story was not linear. It starts off right in the thick of things from the perspective of Creusa, the wife of Aeneas, as she wakes to find her city in flames, then jumping to the experiences of the captive Trojan women after the war and then turning back the clock to show the story of the Amazon Queen Penthisilea who fought Achilles and so on, stepping back in time as far the golden apple episode. While each story was no doubt fantastic, I would have enjoyed it much more had it all been in chronological order.
“Sing, Muse, he said, and I have sung. I have sung of armies and I have sung of men. I have sung of gods and monsters, I have sung of stories and lies. I have sung of death and of life, of joy and of pain. I have sung of life after death. And I have sung of the women, the women in the shadows. I have sung of the forgotten, the ignored, the untold.”
Overall, this was an amazing retelling and from a very unique perspective of a well known tale. There have been of course, several retellings of these events in recent years, but I feel this book definitely brings something new. It would be beneficial to know some of the background of The Iliad and The Odyssey or even just some Greek mythology in general prior to reading this, but even without it, it should be easy enough to follow. I would highly recommend A Thousand Ships to all mythology fans!
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!