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A Thousand Ships

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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.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published May 2, 2019

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About the author

Natalie Haynes

18 books4,242 followers
Natalie Haynes, author of THE FURIES (THE AMBER FURY in the UK), is a graduate of Cambridge University and an award-winning comedian, journalist, and broadcaster. She judged the Man Booker Prize in 2013 and was a judge for the final Orange Prize in 2012. Natalie was a regular panelist on BBC2’s Newsnight Review, Radio 4’s Saturday Review, and the long-running arts show, Front Row. She is a guest columnist for the The Independent and The Guardian. Her radio series, Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics, was first broadcast in March 2014.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 7,893 reviews
Profile Image for jessica.
2,555 reviews35.8k followers
May 31, 2020
sometimes it feels as if my hearts only purpose is to beat for greek mythology and this book is a gift, straight from zeus himself, to give me life.

this retelling of the trojan war, including the actions that lead up to it and the consequences that followed, is quite refreshing. whilst classic myths tell about the glory and conquests of men, this focuses on the often overlooked presence of women.

elegantly written from the narration of calliope, the goddess of epic poetry, the reader is given a unique perspective that is often ignored. as calliope answers the pleas of a poet, she provides a compilation of the many women - goddesses, greeks, and trojans alike - whose lives were affected by the war.

and although this isnt told in chronological order, but rather an anthology of stories, the narrative is quite exceptional. the writing provides such a vivid characterisation that, even in the shortest of chapters/stories, i felt so connected to the women.

this is a must read for fans of greek mythology, especially those looking for a new perspective of a classic story.

4.5 stars
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,492 reviews2,735 followers
March 21, 2020
I find it extraordinary that a classicist can claim that the women from the Trojan cycle are 'forgotten, ignored... hidden'. As if all those Athenian plays built around the figures and words of the women in these stories never existed: Euripides' The Trojan Women, Hecuba, Andromache; Aeschylus' Clytemnestra; Ovid's Heroides which rewrites epic from the points of view of women such as Penelope, Helen and Laodamia, even Ovid's Metamorphoses which gives us a subversive Calliope alongside the other muses. It's disingenuous - and it also leaves the stories in this book feeling derivative, mundane and unimaginative. Just look at what Atwood did with Penelope in her The Penelopiad for an original take on classical texts. Two stars because Kalliope is amusing!
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,311 reviews120k followers
January 28, 2021
Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures, for so were the counsels of Jove fulfilled from the day on which the son of Atreus, king of men, and great Achilles, first fell out with one another. - the opening of The Iliad by Homer
I’m not sure I could have made it more obvious, but he hasn’t understood at all. I’m not offering him the story of one woman during the Trojan War, I’m offering him the story of all the women in the war. Well, most of them (I haven’t decided about Helen yet. She gets on my nerves.).
I’m giving him the chance to see the war from both ends: how it was caused and how its consequences played out. Epic in scale and subject matter.
Calliope, Homer’s presumed muse, keeps trying to get him to tell the broader tale, not just the one about the men and their battles and intrigues. But he insists on a singular, male-oriented view of the Troy story (Ilios is Greek for Troy). That is the only one we have gotten, well, from him, anyway. Other classical writers have offered some different perspectives, Euripedes in particular.

Natalie Haynes - Image from her site - photo credit: Dan Mersh

We have all read it, (you did do the assigned reading in school right?) or certainly at least heard about it. The Iliad, by Homer, is the most widely read epic poem ever. The action centers on the leaders and the combatants, with a healthy dose of less-than-divine gods and goddesses, and adventure aplenty. It is rather light, though, on the stories about the impact of this lengthy war on women. Whudduwe? Chopped livah?

So, Natalie Haynes offers a retelling of the story of Troy from the perspective of its female characters, the story she imagines Calliope might have been pressing on her reluctant client. And the Odyssey as well, as we trail Odysseus through some of his dodgy travails.
The drama of war is not always found on the battlefield. It’s in the build-up, the aftermath, the margins. Where the women are waiting. - Haynes – from The Observer article
Beware Greeks bearing gifts.

Trojan Horse - image from ThoughtCo.com

Just like today, the lives of regular people in Greek mythology are made miserable by the feckless, selfish, ignorant actions of the people in charge. And those on high are not shy about using others, other gods, lower-level gods, demi-gods, and mere mortals to implement their dark desires. For example, Gaia, mother of Titans (take that, Daenerys) is maybe a bit more like Joan Crawford (Earth-Mommy dearest?) in this telling, or a very unhappy landlady. (banging on the ceiling with a broom handle?)
Mankind was just so impossibly heavy. There were so many of them and they showed no sign of halting their endless reproduction. Stop, she wanted to cry out, please stop. You cannot all fit on the space between the oceans…you must stop, so that I can rest beneath your ever-increasing weight.
Zeusy, Sweetie, can you help me out here? And what better way to take off a bit of excess earthly poundage than a lengthy and particularly bloody war. Sure, Gai, no prob. And thus, with the eager assistance of a cast of the greedy, prideful, bloodthirsty, short-sighted, dumb, and just plain foolish, we get a decade-long war, short on forward movement but long on casualties, and stories.

Cassandra in front of the burning city of Troy - by Evelyn De Morgan – from Wikimedia

We follow a cast of mostly female characters as they endure or succumb to the horrors of war, politics and religion. Hecabe, Priam’s widow is a central core among the captive wives and daughters of the defeated Trojans, holding the group together as they ponder and plan for their fates in the hands of their captors. They cope with their treatment by the Greek victors. Some names will be familiar. Others, less so. You have probably heard of Cassandra. And certainly you know of Hector, but not his widow Andromache. They face moral choices no less than their y-chromosome counterparts. When and how to resist, when and how to go along. Finding ways to seek justice, revenge, or freedom. Banding together. Even the hated Helen is given a turn. Their lives, and deaths are no less heroic, despite a lower body count.

Penthesilea - image from Total War Saga: Troy

Non-Trojan women get a perspective as well. You may have heard of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, but maybe not of Penthesilea, an amazing Amazonian character, Xena, or Wonder Woman, sans the tech. Leading her force into battle, looking to take on Achilles himself. You go, girl. Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon, gets some recognition for the atrocities she has endured, not just the one for which she has received a dark reputation.

Penelope - image from The Arts Desk – painting by John William Waterhouse

Penelope tells Odysseus’s story via letters, having heard of his doings from local bards, who clearly get great reception on their muse-links. So, Ody, the war’s over, dinner is getting cold, your son would like to meet you, what time do you think you’ll be home? There are several Penelope chapters, written as letters to her MIA hubs. Pretty funny stuff, looking at the adventures of Odysseus from the perspective of the ones left behind. Oh, so after you poked out the Polyphemus’s one eye and were sailing off into the distance, you felt it necessary to tell him your real name? Just what the hell is wrong with you? You knew that Poseidon was his father, right? Hope you enjoy that curse he dumped on you. Well, no wonder you got blown off course. How old are you?…Really, you took a side trip to Hades? What were you thinking? Shacked up with Circe for a year and that Orygian home-wrecker Calypso for seven FU@#ING YEARS!!! My patience is running a wee bit thin, husband. Her exasperation really comes through.
You were wedded to fame more than you were ever wedded to me. And certainly, your relationship with your own glory has been unceasing.
The men do not come off well, overall, Achilles is not just the greatest warrior who ever lived, but a feckless murder machine who sees no difference between taking on Trojan warriors on the battlefield and mowing down unarmed old men, women, and children from his horse. His bf, Patroclus, thinks a high body count is all that matters, regardless of type. Agamemnon, nominal leader of the Greek coalition army, is venal, pathetic, entitled and cowardly. Can he be impeached? Really, you are willing to slaughter one of your kids to get a fair wind for your ships just because some priest tells you so? Really? Dude, you deserve what you get.
What kind of man wore a bronze breastplate and a plumed helmet to return home? One who believed that his power was seated in his costume, she supposed. The red leather of his scabbard was very fine, studded with gold flecks. She did not recognize it, and realized this must be part of his share of the fabled wealth of Troy. To have killed her child for a decorated bit of animal skin. She could feel the contempt shaping her mouth into a sneer, and stopped herself. Now was not the time to lose control. That would happen later.
The gods are portrayed as their usual awful selves, which is no surprise. Power corrupts, and, apparently, makes you really stupid, too. While most of the women come to a bad end. This is not a spoiler, because you read the book, right? But some get in a few licks of their own, and a few even escape.

Detail of painting The Muses Urania and Calliope by Simon Vouet, in which she holds a copy of the Odyssey - image from Wikimedia

There are many lessons from The Iliad that still pertain thousands of years after its writing. Antenor telling those in charge that the Trojan horse might, just possibly, be a ploy, and Cassandra cursed with knowing what lies ahead but never being acknowledged might, just possibly, remind some of the Trump administration’s response to the Covid crisis. And a Trojan willing to open the gates for an invading horde might certainly resonate with corrupt American legislators offering tours and even directions to a Capitol-invading mob in 2021. The classics are classic for a reason

Clytemnestra and Agamemnon - Pierre-Narcisse Guerin (1774-1833) - Image from Greek Legends and Myths

To see or hear Haynes speak is to be instantly charmed, and better, educated and entertained. She is a gifted lecturer, bringing to her talks all the effervescence, delight, and enthusiasm she clearly brings to her fiction. She is an amazing writer, bringing the ancients to life for us in the 21st century. And her decade-plus career as a stand-up comedian clearly informs her work. While not LOL-funny here, her portrayal of Penelope’s remarkable forbearance certainly has a sharp comedic edge. Overall, Haynes has given voice to a side of the Trojan War that has been much overlooked. A Thousand Ships deserves to get millions of readers. It’s smart, entertaining take on a classic story is a new classic, all its own.
A war does not ignore the lives of half the people it touches. So why do we?

Review posted – January 22, 2021

Publication dates
---------- May 2nd 2019 by Mantle (UK)
-----------January 26, 2021 – Harper (USA)

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, Twitter and Instagram pages

-----NPR - The Trojan Women — And Many More — Speak Up In 'A Thousand Ships' by Lulu Garcia-Navarro
-----Books on the Go - Ep 78: Interview with Natalie Haynes, 'A Thousand Ships' - with Anna Bailliekaras - audio – 36:43
-----The Guardian - Standups on why they quit comedy: 'I have nightmares about having to do it again' by Brian Logan – Haynes is one of several stand up comedians who talk about why they got out
-----Salon London - In conversation with ‘the Nation’s Great Muse’: Natalie Haynes - video – 1:04:13
-----Harrogate Literature Festival – mostly on Pandora’s Jar rather than A Thousand Ships, but wonderfully entertaining, and some outstanding and surprising information about Helen
-----The Guardian - Standups on why they quit comedy: 'I have nightmares about having to do it again' by Brian Logan – Haynes is one of several stand-up comedians who talk about why they got out

Items of Interest - by the author
-----Natalie Haynes: Troy Story - A. G. Leventis WCN Ancient Worlds Study Day 2019
You must watch this. You will not be sorry
-----Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics - BBC Radio 4 - A lecture series by Haynes - audio
-----The Observer - Helen of Troy: the Greek epics are not just about war – they’re about women
-----Decline and fall: what Donald Trump can learn from the Roman emperors
-----Troy Story - Heroes Gods and Amazons!

Items of Interest
----- Where Does the Phrase "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts" Come From? By N.S. Gill
-----wiki on Calliope
-----wiki on Clytemnestra
-----Homer (no, wiseguy, not the one from The Simpsons) - The Iliad - full-text from Gutenberg
June 26, 2022
4/5 tragic but powerful stars for a story which reminds us that the “… casualties of war aren’t just the ones who die”.

A thousand ships, a thousand tales from an author who has shaken the stories of the siege of Troy until “… the hidden women appear in plain sight”.

A book that is beautifully crafted to incorporate the perfect amount of Greek tragedy and mythology with wonderful characterisation and the story about its women. A story that is about bravery, resilience, and slavery as women were forced into a life of submission by the Greeks. A story that is simple and delicate, but also tragic with heartbreaking consequences.

An enthralling and captivating masterpiece of Greek Mythology. A feminist story, a reflection on the women left, that embellished the legendary stories of Achilles, Hector, Agamemnon, and Helen to provide something wonderfully different.

The Plot

The cast of women is endless from married women and grandmothers, girls, and goddesses. A story told through the eyes of Penelope as she pens letters to her husband not knowing whether he is dead or alive. A woman with sharp wit and uncompromising sarcasm at times. Calliope, the poetic muse who dazzles in her storytelling. The goddesses Athena, Aphrodite, Hera who plot and scheme and provide a new perspective of why Helen ended up in Troy, as though the gods willed it. There is another suggestion that the ten-year war was to remedy over population. Interesting concepts and threads woven into the story to provide a different perspective, more colour and intrigue.

However, it was the tales of Hector’s wife Andromache and the enslaved women that captivated me and had me gripped from beginning to end. Andromache who lost her husband in one of the most epic and powerful battles against Achilles, is forced to have a child with, Achilles son, the person who killed her infant baby and now holds her captive.

Review and Comments

I am very partial to Greek mythology, but this one captivated me with an overwhelming sense of loss where heroism was not about how well one fought. The heroes and heroines were the ones that survived.

“Heroism is something that can reside in all of us, particularly if circumstances push it to the fore. It doesn’t belong to men, any more than the tragic consequences of war belong to women.”

The chronologically of events did not flow particularly well at the beginning of the book. I struggled to keep track of the sequence, because some stories were told before the fall of Troy some after, but always with the underlying feeling of tragedy. Then again this was a country at war for 10 years before the infamous wooden horse made its way inside the city walls.

The characterisation was stunning, the retelling was magnificent and the tragic air just perfect. A story that is epic, timeless, and sad but told with great sentiment and soul through the eyes of the women in a way that felt authentic whilst keeping true to the sense of drama that only Greek mythology can provide.
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,064 reviews1,481 followers
July 31, 2019
I am conflicted. This delivered what it set out to do, which is an account of the Trojan war from a multitude of female perspectives. My issue was that this is precisely what it did. This was a retelling of the most straight up kind. The perspectives were sometimes too brief for me to get a feel for the character behind it and others were dwelt on but never returned to, so that I felt my growing empathy severed before it had a chance to plant its roots. I appreciate Haynes for delivering this story but ultimately my adoration with the concept was not enough to keep me fulfilled by its narrative structure.
Profile Image for Candi.
624 reviews4,719 followers
December 16, 2021
“… this is the 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.”

I love the concept of this novel, giving voice to the women of the Trojan War, a whole lot more than I enjoyed the actual experience of reading it. I think the author did an admirable job sharing with the reader as many mortals, goddesses and other mythological beings as is humanly possible in just over 300 pages. Each chapter (43 in all!) highlights a different figure, some of them repeated occasionally and others just appearing once. In the end, however, the quantity is far too much, diluting their individual stories in the process. The extent of research involved to accomplish this feat is one I will praise endlessly. I’m not familiar with all the ins and outs of Greek mythology. I knew the major points previously and have learned a bit more after having read the outstanding Circe by Madeline Miller a couple of years ago. Cassandra by Christa Wolf was actually still quite fresh in my mind, affording me the opportunity to feel a whole lot more educated on the subject than I would have imagined myself to be. But in the end, this served more as an educational tool for me. What I would have preferred was more depth than breadth; to become more intimate with one or just a very few of these women.

“The women were waiting, powerless and broken. What happened after the end of the world?”

These women must have endured a great deal of loneliness, worry, pain and grief while waiting for their husbands, sons, and lovers to return home after so many years of fighting. I know they felt these things because Natalie Haynes told me they did, of course. If their emotions had been a bit more palpable, I would have soaked them all up. I like to do that - get myself all wrapped up in a character or two, and think about them while I’m not right there with the book in hand. I think I’m getting very demanding as a reader; an emotionally involved reader. That’s not to say that the next person will feel the same. We each have different expectations and needs.

One person in particular that I was eagerly waiting to hear from was Penelope. I’ve been longing to hear her voice ever since I finished Circe. I needed to know more about this woman who waited twenty wearisome years for Odysseus to return home. Who the hell has that kind of patience, that sort of devotion? She must be some woman! Her chapters turned out to be letters that she wrote to Odysseus; presumably they weren’t actual letters that could possibly ever have reached him. Instead, they served as a vehicle for the author to tell us what shenanigans Odysseus was up to, rather than what exactly Penelope was doing and feeling all those years. Well, yes, she was annoyed, that’s clear from her writing. And these letters did serve a bit of comic relief – lots of tongue in cheek sorts of remarks from this woman! A lot more could have been done with dear Penelope, but I’m still not at all sure who she really was, except extremely accommodating, naturally. And funny, if you like this sort of humor (I do!):

“I feel sure that only in my husband’s story will pigs play a crucial role. If his men aren’t being transformed into them, he’s sleeping next to them, all rather than coming home to his wife.”

How to rate this novel? I’m torn, quite honestly. I have to admit, I was hoping for another Madeline Miller adventure. And that’s likely not fair to Natalie Haynes. I would love to see Haynes take just a handful of these women and shape a story that maybe is not as broad, but rather more concentrated. Her knowledge is extensive and her writing skills are sharp; I anticipate a spectacular story just waiting to be told. If I consider Haynes’ expertise combined with my enjoyment, I think 3 stars is a fair rating.

“When a war was ended, the men lost their lives. But the women lost everything else.”
Profile Image for Henk.
875 reviews
May 12, 2023
I feel I would have enjoyed this book more if I knew less of the source material. Now a lot of the short chapters feel more like a retelling or even an infodump than truly a stand alone story with fully realized characters
Survivors, victims, perpetrators: these roles are not always separate. People can be wounded and wounding at the same time, or at different times in the same life.

A Thousand Ships starts of with poetic visions of what razing a city means, fires so bright that people and birds awake from an illusion of sun. Natalie Haynes intends to give voices to the females involved, often victim of, the war for Troy and the subsequent events. Sometimes her approach feels almost fan fiction like, I found it strangely satisfactory to finally understand how the wooden horse entered Troy and how we got the Laocoon group, but in the end following all the threads shows a lot of the events must just be attributed to divine interventions (and an anachronistic Malthusian view the Greek Pantheon supposedly had towards humans).

For the Trojan Women, known from Euripides his work, the Greek are barbarians, showing how much history is written by victors. This sentence at the end of the book reinforces that messaging:
He is learning that in any war, the victors may be destroyed as completely as the vanquished. They still have their lives, but they have given up everything else in order to keep them. They sacrifice what they do not realize they have until they have lost it. And so the man who can win the war can only rarely survive the peace.
Despite their stories being known, as said already Euripides in antiquity lifted their fates from The Iliad, the level of brutality towards the conquered is unsettling. With children being thrown from the city walls and Andromache being forced to bed the responsible man, incidentally the son of the man who killed her husband Hector, as a sad highlight. Also the life of Cassandra, blessed with foresight and cursed by never being believed is terrible and raises questions of predestination and free will. Hekabe being a badass to the Thracian king in chapter 28 is nice as well.

I quite liked the recurring postmodern complaints from muze Calliope in respect to Homer, but in general I feel that 43 chapters in a book not much above 300 pages did not help with giving the stories of all the women involved emotional gravitas.
Sentences like these, from someone you only follow for 10 pages, feel a bit empty:
I’ll grief for my family when I am alone.
What if you never are?

How the gods are depicted also grated: why is Athena a whiny little girl in this rendition of the verdict of Paris? Apollo COVID-19ying the Greeks for revenge felt kind of interesting, but Eris for instance was a walking cliche of a revenge and envy driven character.

In the end I feel Margaret Atwood her The Penelopiad and House of Names by Colm Tóibín, and even The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller do a better job of reimagining the source material, that in itself is already very rich, than the fragmentary and sometimes almost infodump like approach of A Thousand Ships.
I found the audiobook narration by the author delightful, and love the cover of the book, but in the end this was a 2,5 star read for me.

Quotes I enjoyed:
Even in war there are rules.

‘Our losses will be shared’ she said. ‘You should save your sorrow for yourself’

She curved beneath her dress like a dolphin or a seal arcing through the surface of the water.

Waiting is the cruelest thing that I ever endured, like bereafment without certainty

Some things don’t requires wisdom, just eyes.

Themis preferred statements to questions.

This seems to be so extravagantly unlikely I almost believe it’s true
Profile Image for Rosa.
93 reviews16 followers
August 16, 2019
meh. just because a novel is written about women and/or from the perspective of women doesn't automatically make it feminist, y'all.

A Thousand Ships, despite its great premise (the story of the Trojan War told from the POVs of the women) - doesn't offer anything new and I do not understand the hype surrounding it at all. There have been other (better written) retellings of the Trojan War by women and about women long before this one.

There are probably a dozen different women telling a part of their story in this novel and yet pretty much every single one of them revolves around the men in their life (I mean, sure, I get that the novel is about war and its aftermath and that many of the women in the novel are wives and mothers whose husbands and sons are fighting and dying, but I just cannot believe that not a single one of the women has anything else to worry or think about than them). The most facepalm-inducing examples being the POV chapters of Penelope, which are in the forms of letters to her husband Odysseus where she - for real, I'm not kidding - tells to her husband what she has heard he's been up to, in essence summarising The Odyssey. So, in a novel which promises us the women's perspective, we essentially learn nothing else about Penelope except that she just terribly wants her husband back home but we sure do get all the deets on what happens to Odysseus in The Odyssey. Sigh.

The novel promises me the untold story of the women affected by the Trojan War, but I just feel like I read a book about the men of the Trojan War, just told from the POVs of the women in their life.

I did, however, like the inclusion of the gods and goddesses in this novel- so many retellings unfortunately leave them out! I especially enjoyed the Calypso chapters.
Profile Image for Debbie W..
764 reviews572 followers
November 2, 2021
I love, love, love this book!!!

Author Natalie Haynes, who narrates her novel with passion, wit and angst, was inspired by stories of the various goddesses, warriors, wives, mothers and daughters of the Trojan War, and has masterfully woven their tales into an epic of and for women!

I was especially enamored with the stories of:
1. Penelope (wife of Odysseus) - her "sharp-tongued" letters to her wayward husband just dripped with sarcasm! I was very attentive whenever her sections came up!
2. Hecuba (queen of Troy) and Clytemnestra (wife of Agamemnon) - Haynes's description of their vengeful acts had me gasp in horror and even in wonder!
3. Hera/Aphrodite/Athena (Greek goddesses) - petulant, selfish, vain, conniving and spiteful, yet Haynes makes their exchange with Paris quite humorous (I especially enjoyed Athena's role!)
4. Calliope (Homer's possible muse?) - her savvy delivery was delightful!
5. Iphigenia (daughter of Clytemnestra) and Cassandra (daughter of Hecuba) - how can one not be moved by Haynes's poignant retellings of their demises?

From beginning to end, I was riveted by the stories of this most interesting cast of women - some I knew about, and others I had never heard of before. Since this would make an enlightening reference, I must go out and purchase a hard copy for my library! And I must follow this author!

I highly recommend this book for fans of Greek mythology and/or the 2004 movie TROY!
Profile Image for Charlotte May.
721 reviews1,121 followers
August 22, 2021
“She isn’t a footnote, she’s a person. And she - all the Trojan women - should be memorialised as much as any other person.”

I enjoy anything relating to Greek mythology, it’s my jam.
This book in particular grabbed my interest because it gives voice to the women during the Trojan War rather than the usual characters (Achilles, Odysseus, Agamemnon etc.) and granted, these men are obviously included. They cannot be ignored when recounting the Trojan War, but so too should the women be included. The wives, the kidnapped, the enslaved.

As well as those we have stories of the goddesses, ones who were involved in the beginning of the war due to their own petty grievances.

I loved all the different character perspectives and even learned a few things which I didn’t expect 😊
Profile Image for Hannah Greendale.
701 reviews3,356 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
March 16, 2020
Third "read" of the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction longlist.

DNF at page 57.

This is a slight improvement on the 2019 Women's Prize longlist nominee on the Trojan War, The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, which claimed to offer a female perspective on the war but was ultimately dominated by the viewpoint of its male characters.

Natalie Haynes honors the women, raising their voices to provide a broader perspective on the war and its aftermath. She flits from one woman to the next, introducing the perspective of five different women in the first fifty pages, with additional female characters to follow. Narrative perspective shifts from first to third-person. Some chapters follow a linear path while others fade in and out of the past and present. This leaping about, narratively and through time, gives the book a quality of being patchwork and frenetic, disjointed. The systematic checking off of each woman's perspective minimizes character development. And while Haynes' writing is pretty it lacks emotional depth, further distancing the reader.

To nominate another book on the Trojan War suggests a book that's better than last year's nominee. To a slight degree, Haynes has accomplished that - particularly in her first-person narrative following Calliope's conflict with a certain poet - but there's not enough of a distinction from last year's disappointing nominee, not enough "new" being brought to the table, to stir feelings of adoration or awe.

Verdict: A Thousand Ships is too succinct and detached to warrant pushing through.
The women were waiting on the shore, gazing blank-eyed at the sea. The tang of dried green seaweed and bent brown reed stalks fought against the stench of smoke which filled their clothes and matted hair. After two days, the Greeks were finally completing their systematic looting of the blackened city, and as the women waited to find out who they now belonged to, they huddled around their queen as though her last embers might keep them warm.
Profile Image for Melissa (Semi-hiatus Very Behind).
4,650 reviews2,126 followers
September 22, 2021
This is admittedly not the genre or type of book I would typically choose. It was the choice for my book club this month, and I have made a commitment to expand my horizons and read everything, and I'm very glad I did.

At first, the non-linear storytelling is difficult to grasp. The story of the Trojan War is told from the perspectives of many different women from many different timelines. I got frustrated with trying to follow, but I remembered my commitment and soldiered on. At about page 190, things start to come together and make sense. Explanations for random events are revealed, and by the end I was quite satisfied with the narrative. The muse Calliope has small sections of narration that are both snarky and meaningful at the same time. I can totally see this book being made into a Netflix series with the Trojan Women and Calliope narrating and bracketing the various stories.

I remembered just enough of my high school reading of The Odyssey that some of it was familiar, but I think that readers who stick with this will be rewarded and it's not necessary to really know all of the mythology because it is explained fairly well. Those who do know more about the Trojan War and the various gods and goddesses will really engage with the story.
September 11, 2022
“But this is the 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.”

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes is an eloquently penned retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women whose lives were impacted by the war.

The novel begins with Calliope, the Muse of Epic Poetry, lending her song to the poet who is writing another epic but here the story of the Trojan War is told from the perspectives of women – the goddesses, nymphs, princesses, queens and slaves . We hear the voices of women from both sides - stories of grief, loss , death and devastation, deceptions and betrayals , victory and defeat. We learn of the aftermath of the war from women waiting for husbands returning in victory as well as the Trojan women who huddle together awaiting their fate after defeat.

I found the story of the Goddesses fighting over the golden apple quite amusing. The perspectives of Cassandra and Hecabe were very moving. Creusa’s account of her search for her husband and Oenone’s story were heartbreaking.

Penelope’s voice is presented in epistolary format through letters written to her husband Odysseus while she waits for his return.
“Waiting is the cruellest thing I have ever endured. Like bereavement, but with no certainty.”
Though it was entertaining and varied in tone from the grief and sorrowful stories of the other women, I felt that the emphasis was more on Odysseus and his exploits and wished that there would have been more about Penelope’s life in Ithaca. Her final segment is a letter/prayer to Goddess Athene after Odysseus finally returns to Ithaca.

With an engaging narrative, fluid prose, multiple perspectives beautifully executed by the author, this is a book I would definitely recommend to those who enjoy retellings of Greek mythology. I was invested from the very first chapter and not for a moment did I feel my interest wavering. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of the author’s work in the future. I would definitely recommend this book to fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe.

“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. I have celebrated them in song because they have waited long enough. Just as I promised him: this was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them. A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?”
May 9, 2021
When a war was ended, the men lost their lives. But the women lost everything else. And victory had made the Greeks no kinder. (c)
She could see her own future as clearly as she saw everything else. Its brevity was her one consolation. (c)
She remembered the warring sensations when her father introduced them: immediate devotion mingled with a desperate presentiment of grief. (c)
Unable to bear the conversation of her parents or friends or servants, she found herself repeating the looped walk, across to the eastern side of the city where she sat under a thin tree and waited for no one to come, because there would be no news she ever needed to hear again. (c)
Because really, how many cannibalistic giants can one Greek plausibly meet as he sails the open seas? Even I, expert in your ability to create trouble, think one set is probably sufficient for your story. (c)
Let us hope you never have to muster another force, Odysseus. Your reputation may leave you short of volunteers. (c)
First you asked your mother how she had died. Then you asked after the health of your father. Then your son. Then your honour. Then your throne. And then, when you had asked about everything else except the dog, you remembered to ask after your wife. (c)
Greek sailors are so rarely lucky with the wind, almost as if the gods themselves want to keep you out of the water. (c)
You met a monster. You met a witch. Cannibals broke your ships. A whirlpool ate your friends. Telemachus himself would never have come up with such excuses and he was a boy. (c)
Typical Odysseus. Never approach a problem directly if you can come upon it sideways. (c)
... I feel sure that only in my husband’s story will pigs play a crucial role. (c)
Profile Image for Marquise.
1,751 reviews623 followers
July 15, 2019
Not as terrible as her Oedipan retelling, but Haynes' take on the Trojan War has the same issues as the former, starting with her repeated mistake that in wanting to retell a Greek myth in a more modern mindset-friendly redo, she ends up missing the point of the original. In this case, the reason for the Achaeans going to war with Troy is absurd to the point of unbelievability. I don't mind that they shift the traditional blaming it on Helen for a different casus belli in retellings, it can be done well and I've seen it done, but I do expect credibility and Haynes fails at this.

Besides, the story is all over the place. All the different POVs here (women every one of them) don't have an unified style: some are first person, such as Calliope's, others are third person, such as most of the rest of the POVs, some are omniscient narrator, such as Gaia's, and some are epistolary, such as Penelope's. This gives the book the look of a series of independent vignettes connected thematically in a very loose manner. And I say "loose" because, even though the theme in common is the Trojan War, the sources are way scattered: they go from Euripides to Aeschylus to Vergil to Ovid to whatever shiny bit of classical mythology the author fancied, even if it wasn't part of the Iliad canon but Roman fanfiction; and I'm left wondering, do you even KNOW what a structured novel is like? At least decide first what you want to tell, and only then insert the bits you like. Don't simply splash them all in and try to make everything fit. Furthermore, for an author who claims in the Afterword to have done her research on Ancient Greece, she's made some glaring mistakes; to name just one: Helen isn't from Argos, she's from Sparta.

The redeeming quality here is the prose, which is good although not to the point it compensates for the deficiencies in storytelling and narrative structure. Personally, I don't think I'm going to pick up another book by this author, as I'm ordinarily picky witth retold Greek mythology and this is the second time in a row she's let me down with her retellings.
Profile Image for Iset.
665 reviews494 followers
July 7, 2020
Round two. I read Natalie Haynes’ book retelling the Oedipus myth a couple of years ago, and for various reasons I didn’t enjoy it (mainly, deviating so far from the myth that I didn’t think it even qualified as Oedipus any more, and making the civil war between the two princes into an overly childish shouting match). But I’ve often said that I’m reluctant to blacklist an author on the basis of one bad book – maybe they just had a dip, or that one book didn’t gel with me. Two books, however, and I can be reasonably assured that I do not get on with the author’s writing style and can safely blacklist them. Haynes came out with yet another ancient world mythology-based novel, and so here I am again.

I didn’t really connect with this one either.

But it isn’t because the book is poorly written. It isn’t outstandingly written, by any means, but the prose is perfectly serviceable and it makes a nice smooth read. It was the quality of the story-telling that seemed so mediocre to me.

For starters, I should note that I listened to the audiobook. I listened to Haynes’ last book in audio format too, and had a bit of an issue with the narration style of Kristin Atherton. This time round, Haynes’ narrates her own book, and I got on much better with her more relaxing voice. But it was a little weird to me that Haynes insisted upon the more accurate version of some ancient names – Hecabe, not the Romanised Hecuba, for instance – but then when it came down to pronouncing some of the names she stuck with an inaccurate version – Sirsee, rather than the more accurate Kirkay for the name Circe, to pick out just one example. This seemed inconsistent to me, but it was such a minor annoyance (and unique to the audiobook) that I haven’t marked the book down for it.

As a friend of mine has already observed, what’s mystifying about this book is that Haynes insists, both in the author’s notes and through the voice of Calliope, that the stories of the women of the Trojan War are forgotten and overlooked – and that is the crux of the problem with this book. Haynes’ claim is strange given that the ancients wrote about these woman a great deal, most famously the playwrights Sophokles, Aiskhylos, and Euripides, and in the modern world the 21st century has seen a veritable explosion of Trojan War retellings with a focus on the women: Amalia Carosella’s duology on Helen, Emily Hauser’s For the Most Beautiful, Judith Starkston’s Hand of Fire, Margaret George’s Helen of Troy, Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls. But the problem with A Thousand Ships is not just that it’s awash in a sea of similar novels. It’s that Haynes makes this claim, and then proceeds to so closely replicate what the ancients wrote about these women.

Very little new material of Haynes’ own is added to these women’s stories. Frequently she reproduces scenes from ancient epic and tragedy, bridging a few gaps here and there with a couple of sentences which do their best to fit in plausibly, but as a result do not deviate from the script, offer no surprises, and cannot be said I think to give these women any substantial agency or voices beyond what they already had. It is baffling as to why Penelope’s chapters are written in the form of letters to her husband in which she essentially recounts his adventures from The Odyssey and her annoyance at his infidelity. This feels like a huge missed opportunity to expand upon the bare bones of what the epics say Penelope was doing during those 20 years and give her a significant and complex story of her own. I seriously question whether this be called a feminist retelling when Penelope merely recounts her husband’s story which is already known so very well. The Kalliope chapters have the fictional muse berating Homer for his lack of focus on female characters, but this feels like the pot calling the kettle black when A Thousand Ships is retreading his work and that of other ancient writers – and not even coming up with something inventive and original by, say, writing an alternative ending, as Amalia Carosella does when she subverts Helen’s story in her books.

Speaking of Helen, Haynes is determined not to write of her. This may have been an authorial decision due to Helen’s existing prominence, but within the novel it is framed as the dislike of the muse Kalliope – and almost all the other female characters – for the charismatic, beautiful Helen. Really? In a book aiming to be a feminist retelling you’re going to engage in woman-on-woman hate, slut-shaming, and exclude Helen’s voice? Haynes does give Helen a chance to make a few clever points and sharp remarks; but briefly, in someone else’s chapter, and Helen is never allowed a chapter of her own. The petulance and immaturity of the gods was in my opinion overdone – exceptionally overdone, to the point where it makes the reader wonder at the Greeks’ stupidity in putting figures such as these on literal pedestals. As a result, none of the portrayals of various deities rang true for me.

Frankly, Haynes’ retelling was safe, and because of that, it was boring, even though the prose was competent. Most of the stories were unengaging because most of them were mundane, unimaginative, close reproductions of the stories which already existed about these women and added hardly anything fresh or new. Others have done it so much better in recent years. For a much stronger feminist take, try Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls. For a truly surprising and imaginative take which gives agency back to its female protagonist to draw the story off into a completely unexpected direction, try Amalia Carosella’s Helen of Sparta. Haynes’ version is the very least of the options, the most derivative, and it feels like the lowest effort one out there.

3 out of 10
Want to read
November 13, 2021

I feel like I keep looking for that perfect Greek literary novel that will fill the Madeline Miller shaped hole in my life. Given that this is blurbed by the queen herself, I have high hopes.
Profile Image for Linda.
Author 2 books177 followers
April 6, 2021
Shortlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction

Women who survive (or don’t survive) a war are equally as heroic as their menfolk. (p. 344).

A Thousand Ships is a retelling of the Trojan War from the women’s point of view. Natalie Haynes draws upon the Homeric epics and the plays of 5th century Athens as her sources. The book begins powerfully with war’s end and the destruction of Troy. Haynes paints a vivid picture of the fear and despair of the Trojan women as they begin to face their future as slaves to the Greek victors.

The chapters that follow consist of a series of vignettes that give voice to the women, Greek and Trojan, mortal and Goddesses of the epics and myths. This compilation of voices creates a stirring ambiance that evokes the overall plight of these women. While the book is compelling, I have read other retellings (Pat Barker, Margaret Miller, and Column Toibin), focusing on a single character or a limited series of events and probe more deeply into character and context. I find the latter a more satisfying read. However, I enjoyed listening to A Thousand Ships. I recommend it.
Profile Image for Neale .
310 reviews144 followers
March 12, 2020
Longlisted for the 2020 Women's Prize for Fiction.

4.5 Stars.

This is another retelling of the Trojan War. The novel covers events which happened before and during Homer’s two epic poems, The Iliad, and The Odyssey. However, with this retelling we have something which has not been done before. The story is told from the female characters perspective. Be they mortals, queens, or gods, all the characters are female, with the male characters taking a back seat.

The story begins with the sacking of Troy. The Greeks last ditch effort, the trick that spawned the saying, “beware Greeks bearing gifts” the Trojan Horse, has worked, and the Greeks are within the walls raping and pillaging. Frustrations of ten long years of fighting being taken out on the people of Troy.

The very first chapter belongs to Calliope, the muse, who is refusing to help Homer compose his epic poem. She will not help him until she receives an offering as all mortals must do. This is one of my favourite parts of the novel. Calliope will pop up again and again following Homer as he composes his poem. Yes, in a genius stroke Haynes takes Homer out of the narrative replacing him with Calliope, the chief of all the muses and epic poetry, ensuring that the story being told from the female perspective begins right from the start.

Haynes gives voices to characters who are integral to the original tale and yet almost never got to open their mouths in the original poems. Characters such as Briseis and Chryseis. Without these two women, there would have been no plague, Achilles would not have withdrawn his forces, from the war, Patroclus would not have taken his place, etc, these two women in the original poem are vital characters without a voice.

The structure of the narrative is very similar to Colleen McCullough’s retelling “Song of Troy” in that each chapter is devoted to one character and their perspective. There are a number of chapters however entitled “The Trojan Women” and in these chapters we find the royal women of Troy, Priam’s wife and daughters, Hector’s wife, waiting to find out their fate.

About half the novel is devoted to Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, writing letters to him waiting and longing for his return. She learns through Homer’s poems the trials that Odysseus is going through and his struggles, while Penelope struggles to believe the poets words. we find what it is like for her waiting twenty years for Odysseus to return to her. Haynes shines a light on her pain.

At times the novel feels almost like an anthology of Greek myths and the narrative is not chronological with chapters weaving back and forth. However, they are all brilliantly connected, and the reader never loses their way. In fact, Haynes has done a marvellous job placing the various chapters in the order they are. Even somebody who has never read Homer would find it difficult to get lost.

I do believe that lovers of Homer and his epic poems will get more out of this novel, but as with the other retellings, I also think that this book will be enjoyable for all. It may even convince some people to read the wonderful works of Homer. 4.5 Stars!
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,018 reviews1,184 followers
January 15, 2022
"When a war was ended, the men lost their lives. But the women lost everything else."

The reviews for this one are such a mixed bag that while I was consumed with curiosity about the subject, I was also feeling some trepidation picking it up: nothing sucks quite the way a book you wanted to love turning out bad sucks. I was both pleased and relieved that it turned out to be a smooth and satisfying read.

After the end of the Trojan War, the women (and nymphs and goddesses) who were involved in this epic story look back on the past few years, taking stock of the traumas and loss they endured, and the dark fates still to come. Hecabe, Penelope, Briseis, Clytemnestra, Andromaque... We know their names, and the stories of men they were close to, but here Haynes writes in their own voices, fleshing the known tales and breathing new life and emotions into the classic stories.

I enjoyed Haynes' writing, which was evocative without being overwrought - and I always love a Greek myth retelling, especially of any stories related to the Trojan War. I think that one of the criticisms levelled against this book is that she didn't really speculate further than the source material, and sure, the book would have been even better had she pushed the envelope further in that direction, but I enjoyed her portrayal of the characters too much to care. I also thought that device of the muse and the poet, which was a wonderful idea, could have been emphasized a bit more.

But overall, this was a well-written retelling of some of my favourite stories. Haynes really knows her stuff and I look forward to her other books!
Profile Image for Fariha.
97 reviews26 followers
August 26, 2022
I loved this book all the way, 100% and more! It was an impressive objective the author set out to accomplish – to give voice to the women who equally deserve their place in the story of when a thousand ships sailed from Greece to bring the beautiful Helen of Troy back to Sparta, to her husband, Menelaus.

“… is Oenone less of a hero than Menelaus? He loses his wife, so he stirs up an army to bring her [Helen] back to him, costing countless lives and creating countless widows, orphans, and slaves. Oenone loses her husband, and she raises their son. Which of those is the more heroic act?”

This quote sums up the book beautifully for me. The heroism of women, something that is so often overlooked and so often understated, has been the sole focus of this book.

The cast of women is remarkable which made it a riveting read for me. Each chapter is spoken from the perspective of a different woman, in different timelines too, which enhances the flow of the story and creates a terrific sense of mystery where the author crafts in gradual revelations across the chapters very skilfully, tying everyone’s story into one. For me, it was also quite an educational experience since I knew very few of these women. I loved learning about each, their hopes, dreams, fears, and weaknesses, as well as the strength, courage, and perseverance they invoke when faced with their unique tragic circumstances.

A very minor thing, which I overlooked mostly - often it does feel like the story moves on too quickly from one character to the other. Initially I felt lightly disappointed since I wanted to spend more time with some of the characters. However, as I progressed through the chapters, I couldn’t be more grateful that Ms Haynes went above and beyond to bring to life such a large cast, otherwise, some of the characters and their stories of heroism may have remained hidden and only ever mentioned as footnotes in history.
Profile Image for aileen | ✾.
360 reviews228 followers
July 15, 2021
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. I have picked up the old stories and I have shaken them until the hidden women appear in plain sight. I have celebrated them in song because they have waited long enough. Just as I promised him: this was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them. A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches.
So why do we?

I don't think there's anything I need to add to this.
Profile Image for saïd.
6,322 reviews983 followers
January 5, 2023
I think it’s quite ignorant at best and misleading at worst to claim that this book would “[give] voices to the women, girls and goddesses who, for so long, have been silent,” considering the wealth of classic texts we have which tell the stories of women in antiquity. This book purports to tell the “untold” stories of Cassandra, Hecuba, Andromache, Penthesilea, Clytemnestra, Briseis, Chryseis, Laodamia, Polyxena, Iphigenia, Penelope, others; even various nymphs and goddesses. (Helen’s perspective is notably absent.) But for almost every one of these women I could think of at least one classical text about them, as much from their perspective as stories like the Iliad or Odyssey are from the perspective of the men. Multiple plays by Euripides (Medea, Troiades, Helen, Elektra, Iphigenia at Aulis, Iphigenia in Tauris, Hecuba, Alcestis, Suppliant Women, and many more), Aeschylus (Seven Against Thebes), Sophocles (Antigone); Ovid’s Heroides (which rewrites the stories from the perspectives of Helen, Penelope, Laodamia, etc.) and Metamorphoses (with its subversive Muses, including Calliope—the narrator of this book!); even large sections of the Iliad (and the Odyssey, to a lesser extent) are told from women’s perspectives.

There are indeed many maligned and ignored women in ancient Greek myth, but those are the women whose names we do not know, the women who are mentioned only in their relation to men—someone’s wife, someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, someone’s sister, someone’s slave. These women whose names we know have been the subject of many, many retellings, from classical antiquity to today, with the recent boom in “subversive” retellings of classics (Atwood’s Penelopiad, Miller’s Circe, Le Guin’s Lavinia, Barker’s Silence of the Girls, Wolf’s Cassandra and Medea, Beutner’s Alcestis, Saint’s Ariadne, even Smythe’s Lore Olympus, and loads of others I haven’t read).

And for all this book claimed to be telling the untold stories of these women, the focus was still on the men in their lives and the women’s relationships to those men: I was hoping, perhaps foolishly, that we would learn more about these women’s lives outside of the war, or perhaps even what they did during the long years of waiting. Even Penelope’s letters to her absent husband, some of my favourite passages in the book, were primarily about recounting tales of his various exploits instead of what Penelope herself was doing and thinking outside of her relationship to Odysseus. As a result these women felt more like hollow façades instead of fully realised characters on par with the viscerally human characters of the original Homeric epic from whence they were plucked, and the overall effect was that the book felt ultimately little more than derivative.
Profile Image for Annette.
800 reviews382 followers
January 3, 2022
Creusa wakes to see angry orange light flickering all over the city. Then, with the shouting of men she realizes that she doesn’t recognize the dialect. The Greeks are in the city of Troy.

Before that when the tall Greek ships sailed away, the Trojans opened the gates to find the strangest wooden horse. They debated what to do with it. At the end, the horse was rolled inside the city.

Afterwards, the women of Troy belong to Greek men.

The story alternates among voices of women of Troy and others, including women of Sparta and deities. For example through the voice of women of Troy we learn about their treatment.

Penelope gives her POV through letters to her husband Odysseus. She is furious at Agamemnon for involving her husband in this maddening war over one woman. Her sharp tongue and honest thoughts catch your attention right away. I liked her voice a lot, but with so many POVs her voice comes just a handful of times.

The story also alternates before and after the fall of Troy, with women relating about the events and about different men who they were, giving in short their background. At first, I was engrossed by the story, but at times when I thought the story would be progressing then it takes a moment to realize that it is actually about before the fall. And with so many POVs at some point the flow feels choppy and I got disconnected. Afterwards, I struggled to reconnect.

There is certainly some originality to the retelling from the perspective of women and it’s certainly written by a talented writer. But I wasn’t engrossed by the whole progression of the story.
Profile Image for Maureen.
347 reviews81 followers
October 12, 2021
Beautiful retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey told in the voices of the female characters.
We begin with the list of endless characters, each with its family history.
I constantly referred back while reading the book.I also googled some names just to fully understand the story. It was confusing sometimes with the different times. Some of the stories were told in non chronological order,but as you read the story it all came together.

The Trojan Women
“The women were waiting on the shore gazing blank eyed at the sea the tang of dried green seaweed and bent brown reed stalks fought against the stench of the smoke.”

“When’s war ended the men lost their lives. But the women lost everything else.”

“My dearest husband, can it really be ten years since you sailed from Ithaca to join Agamemnon and other Greek kings in their ignoble quest to bring Helen back from Troy? Was it a thousand ships which sailed in the end?
How many moons can it take to track down an unfaithful wife after all?

This book was written beautifully with lots of humor and tragedy.
I loved reading about the different perspectives that the women had.
I learned a lot about Mythology in this book. Penelope’s letters to her husband were my favorite.
A must read.
Profile Image for exploraDora.
553 reviews272 followers
February 8, 2022
A Thousand Ships is a beautiful retelling of the Trojan War. I am a huge fan of Greek mythology and this one did not disappoint!

It's telling the stories of the women who were left behind to whatever Fate had planned for them, outside of the long war.

All the characters are rich and while the details flesh out a well known and worn out story, it also offers a fresh perspective. I can't believe this book has not received more attention.

Well written, moving and real.
Profile Image for Brittni Kristine.
185 reviews124 followers
September 16, 2022
I’d feel too bad rating this book low, because there wasn’t anything wrong with it. I just didn’t feel like I gained a lot of new perspective on these old stories, personally.
Profile Image for Sara.
1,131 reviews364 followers
February 27, 2020
ARC received in exchange for an honest review.

3.5 stars.

A Thousand Ships is an epic undertaking, tackling not only The Trojan War but it’s long and drawn out aftermath, all told from the women’s perspective. Always there, ever present, this is their story. From slave to queen to goddess, this is how they all became involved in the mighty Trojan War and what befell them when the great city burned.

I would say that before going into this you need at least a small amount of background knowledge regarding the Trojan War. There is a non linear timeline here that covers backstories and the reasonings behind the war, as well as flash forwards and prophecies from multiple points of view. Without some knowledge of the original texts this pulls from, the story could get very confusing with lots of characters to remember, as well as the various timelines. I do think that at times it tried to cover too much, making the story a little too thinned out over too many people, meaning I couldn’t deeply connect with many of them. Odysseus’ journey could have been a whole separate book on its own (although I did love Penelope’s humour and sass, especially when she begins to repeatedly question her husband’s loyalty to his wife while he lords it up with various beautiful immortal women).

I also really enjoyed the tone of Calliope’s (muse of epic poetry) small chapters. They helped to break up the more heavy storylines involving the Trojan women, with Calliope herself acting almost as a narrator or show woman of the stage, breathing life into her poet’s tale. She also had a biting wit, and a dislike of Helen that had me laughing a few times. My favourite chapter however, is the one involving the golden apple and Athena, Aphrodite, Hera and Paris. A story that starts the Trojan War, I loved seeing the goddess’s act so childishly, reacting with jealousy and vengeful wrath when they don’t get their own way. However, we later learn that they’ve all been manipulated from the outset, with the machinations of the war brought to fruition by Zeus himself. Immortals trickled at their own games, they’re all delightfully horrid characters who use mortals as playthings to pass the time.

Aside from the slightly unnecessary large cast, I ended up really enjoying this. It’s what I was expecting from The Silence of the Girls, where the women truly take centre stage for once in their own story. The Trojan women, with all their heartbreak and suffering, grief and misery. Cassandra with her cursed visions and madness, seeing not only her own death but that of her brothers and sisters too. Over and over. It’s no wonder she went mad. Even Clytemnestra and poor innocent Iphigenia. I loved hearing their opinions, sharing their emotions. Even Helen’s. Although perhaps ironically, for the face that launched a thousand ships, she has very little story time here. I just wish the structure had been a bit more linear, and Penelope had her own book to flesh out her story.

One of the best female retellings of some of my favourite Greek stories to date.
Profile Image for Amina.
409 reviews155 followers
March 26, 2023
I struggled with the book. Many times I wanted to DNF, but pulled through. There are almost 12 different women telling their stories, during and after the Trojan War.

For a book that claims to be feminist, this book spends aprox. 100 percent of the time discussing the lives of their husbands, either off to war, or present but absent. I had a exact recount of Odyssey through letters.

I've read several wondeful Gree Mythological retellings, but this one missed the mark for me.

Jumping in and out of 2 character perspectives is hard enough--try handling 12 or so, plus shifting timelines. I just couldn't....

If you want amazing retelling of Greek Mythology—Madeline Miller!

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