REVIEW: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

Nominated for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction, this is a powerful and imaginative retelling of the Trojan War.

Although the story of the Trojan War is well known, through either films such as Troy starring Brad Pitt or of course Homer‘s Iliad – the story has always been told from the male perspective. A story of glory, danger, war, pride – it has always been an epic tale.  

But what Natalie Haynes has done with this clever and insightful retelling, is reveal the impact and chaos on the lives of the women who were directly impacted by the war. It tells stories of courage, grief, anger, resentment of those whose lives were majorly changed by men’s choices and is immensely powerful from start to finish.

Written with poetic style but always engaging, Haynes manages to beautifully interweave so many stories into one. While many are brief snapshots, others are lingered over that allow the reader get as close as possible to these courageous women. From Penelope writing letters to her husband Odysseus, to the stories of women who were taken as slaves after the fall of Troy, this is a book that deals with many heavy topics that surround the topic of war.

What is also so striking about this book is the way in which Haynes makes the characters seem so vivid, particularly when it comes to Cassandra who asked to be able to see the future from the God Apollo – you can feel the rawness and pain that she feels when a new insight into the future emerges or Penelope’s wit through her letters to her husband about when he is coming home. The author here makes them seem less shadowy and more relatable and real that engages the reader to their stories.

There are also so many moments that really resonate with the reader and show the horror of war – including how Andromache, widow of the Trojan prince Hector, hands her baby over for him to be murdered by her captor Achilles’s son Neoptolemus or the many incidents where a woman was sacrificed to appease the Gods to help with the war.

It is not an easy going read, particularly in the way in which it jumps narratively not only from story to story but also different time periods. But it is still a book that is cleverly and smoothly put together that keeps the reader thoroughly engaged from start to finish.

As the central narrator of the story Calliope says: “A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches.So why do we? They have waited to have their story told and I will make them wait no longer.” It is a powerful finishing statement in a book that richly and vividly explores the impact of war. A Thousand Ships is a thought-provoking and insightful read that will certainly appeal to those who enjoyed reading Madeline Miller’s Circe.

By Emma Clarendon

A Thousand Ships is available to buy now.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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