Book Review: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

book review a thousand ships by natalie haynes
book review a thousand ships by natalie haynes

Title: A Thousand Ships
Author: Natalie Haynes
Release Date: January 26, 2021
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 368
Buy: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indigo
Rating: Own It
Disclaimer: Mild Spoilers

summary book review

“With her trademark passion, wit, and fierce feminism, Natalie Haynes gives much-needed voice to the silenced women of the Trojan War.”—Madeline Miller, author of Circe

Shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, a gorgeous retelling of the Trojan War from the perspectives of the many women involved in its causes and consequences—for fans of Madeline Miller.

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. (Goodreads)

Thoughts book review

Amber’s Thoughts

*hides box of tissues* Excuse me while I emotionally recover from reading this book. I wasn’t expecting to have my heart wrecked from the first page, but here we are. Leave it to the Greeks to have me sobbing in a pool of my own tears (looking at you Song of Achilles). I have always loved Greek Mythology and this month went on a weeee bit of a Greek Mythology reading kick. This book sits in the top tier of these books as a beautiful and heartbreaking book that took my heart, wrecked it, trampled all over it, and then picked it up and put it back together again.

Every chapter was like a stab to the heart. Arms wide open, I was ready. I’ve read Song of Achilles, nothing can hurt me anymore. I am immune to Greek tragedy.

Yeah, no, I’m not.

A Thousand Ships wasn’t a happy story. If you know anything about the Trojan war it didn’t end well for literally anyone. Except maybe the gods and goddesses, they just kept on chilling up on Olympus. Whereas, down in Troy and Greece a thousand women lost their kings so one man could save his queen (quoted from Laodamia’s chapter which I won’t even start on yet because it. wrecked. me.). Really, all of this for Helen. The Trojans should have just given her back. Bless Priam and his nice dumb heart. Alas, I digress.

I loved that this book gave us the stories of the women. The stories of those under siege in Troy, those who fought on the battlefield, those who waited for their husbands to never return home, those who lost sons, husbands, fathers, brothers, and their freedom. I knew a lot of what happened during the Trojan War, but this was a perspective I had never read before. I hadn’t known what happened to the women after Troy was sacked, such as Hecabe and Andromache. I could care less what happened to Helen, but the other women whose lives were completely destroyed, those stories I wanted to hear.

Each chapter is a different woman, some getting one chapter and others getting multiple (or too many, as I felt Penelope got). Even though some women only had a few pages of storytime, my heart ached for each and every one of them. Specially Creusa and Laodamia. Excuse me while I tape my heart back together after those two. Haynes’ writing isn’t extremely poetic (except in Calliope’s chapters), but yet she still manages to conjure up images of pain and suffering and get you to ache for these women.

“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.”

― Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships

The one part I struggled with was Penelope’s letters to Odysseus. It might be that I just genuinely don’t like Odysseus and have heard his story a million times, but I didn’t enjoy reading these parts. And there were many. While I lived for how bitter Penelope was, I wanted to know more of her story and less of Odysseus’. We get it, he’s been gone for 20 years, but instead of telling us a play by play of his adventures, what’s life been like for you? I would have liked to see Telemachus and other characters more. Penelope had it rough when the men moved in to try and woo her and I was more interested in that than Odysseus’ clever scheme to become a sheep to escape a Cyclops. For a book all about women’s stories, this didn’t feel like her story at all.

While some of these women have had their stories told before, most of it is very old and written by men. Other than The Silence of the Girls and a few other books (that I know of, correct me if I’m wrong), there isn’t a lot of mainstream and popular books that talk about the lives of the women. And are written by women. This book was a fresh and much-needed perspective on the Trojan War that was emotional, educational, and one of my favourite reads of the year so far.

Now I’m just going to go Google more Greek retellings, because I need more.

Samantha’s Thoughts

You know, you gotta give it to the Greeks. They really know how to tell a story and make it last YEARS. I think one of the reasons I always find myself coming back to Greek Mythology is that it really knows how to pull on your heartstrings. Some people may seek out Shakespeare for their tragedy fix, but I run to Greece. (Not really, but if I could I would.) That being said, A Thousand Ships had me on the kind of emotional rollercoaster I am addicted to. You know, the ones where even when you know the ending, you still hope for a different outcome. Of course, what made this book even better was that is focused on the women. FINALLY.

Typically, I am not a fan of a book that jumps around between characters. Maybe it’s just me, but I find it removed me from the story too much. However, that wasn’t the case here. I actually loved that some women only got one story while others came back to us. It shows that some “moments” take a little longer to unfold than others, but it doesn’t make them any less important.

The stories that really stood out for me, made my heart ache, and had me shedding some tears were:

Creusa – I can’t image waking up to a siege only to find that my husband and baby aren’t in my home. I’m not a wife or a mother, but I felt her desperation as she tried to navigate her way through a burning city while trying to avoid the Greek soliders.

Penthesilea – Honestly, what more can I say about her besides quoting how her story ends, “He wondered if anyone else had ever died saying the words, ‘Thank You.'”

Laodamia – Every time her husband refers to her as ‘little queen’ my heart. MY HEART. And then to have that moment where he comes back to her. MY HEART AGAIN. Good grief. This one hurt the most, I think.

I didn’t include her in the above this, but having Calliope step in and tell us why she wants the stories of the women heard was such a great touch. I love it when she says, “Men’s deaths are epic, women’s deaths are tragic.” BOOM. MIC DROP. WHATCHA THINK ABOUT THAT?

Apologies. I got a little carried away there.

She is also a Sass-Master. Basically, I want to be her when I grow up. The best part – when she burns Helen. I am sure there will be some people out there who won’t like that Helen doesn’t get her moment in the sun, but the chick did get a thousand ships. What more do you want? But really, she mentions not including Helen because she doesn’t know how she feels about her. Same, girl. Same. If there is one woman who gets talked about all the time, it is Helen. I’m good, thanks.

“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. Heroes don’t become heroes without carnage, and carnage has both causes and consequences. And those don’t begin and end on a battlefield.”

― Natalie Haynes, A Thousand Ships

The only thing I didn’t like about this book was Penelope’s contribution. She is the only one who writes letters to her husband, Odysseus, or to the Goddess Athena. I found these parts more focuses on Odysseus (a man) which deviated from the point of the whole book. Not the mention, if you are someone who loves Greek Mythology, you know Odysessus gets A LOT of page time elsewhere. There isn’t much about the man and his adventures that I don’t already know. I know you feel wronged, Penelope, but I would have liked more of an insight into YOU not your husband. So, for me, it was disappointing that Penelope got as much time as she did. There were women we only met once that made such an impact with their story. Something that none of her letters did for me.

Overall, if you were a fan of A Song of Achilles, Circe, or any other Greek Myth-based book that I haven’t come across yet (but I will!), read this book. I’ve already done some more digging and plan on reading a couple other books by Natalie Haynes within the Greek Myth Universe.

Have you read A Thousand Ships? We would love to discuss this book more.

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12 thoughts on “Book Review: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

    1. *slides over box of tissues* While this one will not emotionally wreck you in the way that Song of Achilles did, it was heartbreaking in a different way from the very first page. I still can’t stop thinking about it. We really hope you like it!! – Amber

      Liked by 1 person

  1. It started with Hamlet which has many many references to Greek mythology, which made me realise how rusty my knowledge is. Currently reading Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, and then have Song of Achilles and Circe lined up, after reading your review, have added A Thousand Ships to the list haha! Thank you for this post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I just discovered Edith Hamilton’s Mythology the other day! It’s on my TBR after I read Stephen Fry’s Mythos. I really hope you like all of those books! Song of Achilles is one of my all-time favourites. Bring tissues if you haven’t prepared already. My heart is still recovering years after reading it. – Amber

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Uh-oh, consider me warned! (bulk buys tissues) 🙂 I hope you enjoy Mythology, it will probably read a little like a textbook as compared to Stephen Fry’s delightful narrative haha!

        Liked by 1 person

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