Book Review

Review: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

We know the tales of The Iliad, of the thousand Greek ships that landed on the Trojan plain to wage war for ten long years because a prince of Troy had seduced the King of Mycenae’s wife. But this is not a book about Helen. This is a book about all the other major women, from Trojans to Greeks, goddesses to nymphs, who were caught up in their own war as Troy fell.

Title: A Thousand Ships A Thousand Ships
Author: Natalie Haynes
Pages: 348
Publisher: Picador, Pan Macmillan
Publication Date: May 2019, paperback May 2020
Ownership: eARC

Rating: 4.5 stars

 

I can’t say that this is the untold story of the women of the Trojan War, as they’ve been told in a number of ways, from The Penelopiad to The Silence of the Girls. The difference here is that this book is wholly about the women, with each named character taking on a voice of her own.

And I couldn’t say this book necessarily tells us anything new about the women of the Trojan War, though, instead it just tells it well. It is especially pleasing to have all of these women’s experiences and stories in one place. I also particularly liked Haynes’ injection of humour into what otherwise would have been a particularly miserable book – especially the goddesses’ squabbling over the apple and Penelope’s scathing letters.

I’ve seen reviews criticising the lack of character in each of the women that play a role in this novel – that’s not the point though. They are snapshots of the women, bottled down to their key feelings, emotions and experiences. Some readers who are familiar with classical texts (Euripides, Ovid and so on) may well say that you can gain more detail about the women, their characters and their experiences from them. However, those texts were often written, where plays were concerned, for an Athenian audience, who may have been more focused on the other messages contained in their words and actions (often to the benefit of Athens) – instead, this is those stories paired back to something more raw.

A few apt quotes from this book that I feel really echo this:

“Men’s deaths are epic, women’s deaths are tragic: is that it? He has misunderstood the very nature of conflict. Epic is countless tragedies, woven together.”

“And I have sung of the women, the women in the shadows. I have sung of the forgotten, the ignored, the untold. I have picked up the old stories and I have shaken them until the hidden women appear in plain sight.”

The way we view these texts now, the women are no longer exactly hidden, but are still overshadowed by the epic and heroic deeds of names like Achilles and Odysseus. Without prioritising one story over another, this is the women’s story. Under ancient social conditions, not every woman could fight with a weapon, but that is not the only way to fight.

Overall, a 4.5 star story, rounded slightly down to 4.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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2 thoughts on “Review: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

  1. Oof yes! I nodded my way through this review agreeing with everything. I loved the angle Haynes’ took with this and I really did appreciate the female narrative she created with the large cast of characters. Think this book definitely holds its own among all the recent Greek retellings.

    1. Thanks! It works as a great companion read if you are looking for the ‘big’ original stories. I saw your review on Goodreads when I posted mine and was nodding along too!

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