Book Review | A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5/5)

Invoking an epic feel, A Thousand Ships tells stories from Troy, but not the stories of the epic heroes that we all know, instead Haynes tells us some of the women’s stories. These may be the stories that we are less familiar with, but they too are powerful and emotive. After all, war affects everyone involved.

From the first chapter, I loved how Haynes draws on epic conventions, ideas and past works. For example, by using the muse of epic poetry, Calliope, and by taking inspiration from Ovid’s Heroides for Penelope’s letters to her husband, Odysseus.

One of the things that I found so interesting about this novel is that these stories of women that I didn’t know are interwoven with stories about the male heroes that I have heard many times. Haynes uses these traditional male-centered stories to introduce us to her take on the stories of the women and I found the way she connects the women to each other to be very clever too. Some women appear in multiple chapters and their stories are told over the duration of the novel, whilst some women have their story told in one chapter and I liked this mixture.

Some of my favourite women in the novel were Calliope, whose sarcasm I loved; Penelope, as I loved Haynes’ interpretation of her and her growing impatience; and Laodamia, whose story I had not heard before but it moved me.

Although those were a few of the women who stood out to me, every woman’s story in this novel gave me something, whether that was a new perspective on the war, emotion or a respect for their strength and endurance.

By telling stories of the Trojan war and its aftermath through the women involved, Haynes gives us a new perspective on the Trojan war and a new way to look at the men too. The epics that we have often focus on the heroism of the men, but Haynes gives us the flip side to this: the ways in which their behaviour, especially towards the women, was not what we would call heroic by any means and how the women reacted to and dealt with this.

Haynes’ writing is beautiful, descriptive, witty and sometimes satirical. I loved her writing style and the way she built her characters gave me such a clear idea of them in my mind. From the childish goddesses to the fearless Hippolyta, Haynes introduces her readers to some great characters and writes their stories in a manner that is informative, yet accessible, and I think I’ll continue reading and enjoying her work for some time.

By the end of the novel, I felt that I had been given a rounded view of the war and of the women involved, both mortal and goddesses, and I had become attached to these women and their stories and almost didn’t want to part with them.

Overall, Haynes uses mythology and epic in clever ways to give us the women of the Trojan war and to create a novel that is informative, thought provoking and emotional. I definitely recommend this novel, especially if you have enjoyed another of the other Greek mythology books around or are interested in a female viewpoint / feminist interpretation on some classic myths and texts.

Lastly, I want to mention that I listened to the audiobook whilst reading along with the paperback. The audiobook is read by Natalie Haynes and I think she brings the myths to life so brilliantly and it was a joy to listen to her reading her novel.

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