ARC Review: A THOUSAND SHIPS by Natalie Haynes

I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.

Title in white below a gold line vector of an Ancient Greek ship against a blue swirling background
Genre: Historical
Age Range: Adult
Star Rating: 5 stars
Series: Standalone
CW: rape, murder, war, slavery

Synopsis:

Book cover for A THOUSAND SHIPS: title in yellow with a boat above and below, and swirling blue lines around

This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them…

In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever known will turn to ash…

The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all…

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

This is a really hard book to review because A THOUSAND SHIPS made me angry, in a way I think it was supposed to. I’m not angry at the book itself (which was wonderful), but at the truths it brings up about the world – and a good book is one that evokes such strong emotions.

I’ve read many books about the Trojan war over the years – from the Iliad to THE SONG OF ACHILLES to THE SILENCE OF THE GIRLS to Adèle Geras’ TROY and beyond. By now, I’d have thought I’d be immune to the surge of anger at the awful, horrible, callous, petulant men who are considered heroes and live on in everlasting fame. But no.

I struggled to articulate to friends (as a way of getting my thoughts to this) the wash of anger at what we as a society consider is worthy of regard, and why we spend so much time telling their stories, while others (the women) are shoved to single lines in maybe one recounting. It’s why I find books like this so cathartic.

So how does A THOUSAND SHIPS evoke such a powerful, emotional response from me?

Instead of telling one story – Briseis, that most people know – A THOUSAND SHIPS tells two dozen stories, all the women who history forgot or neglected. Briseis and Helen are there, but they are only two of the women brought up. Both the women of Troy and the wives of the Greek kings get to tell their story – their loss, despair, and also their lives after the war is over.

Hecabe seeking revenge for the one son she can avenge. Laodamia grief stricken when her husband goes to fight with the Greeks. Oenone, Paris’ first wife, abandoned for Helen. Penelope weary and frustrated at her husband’s continued absence after the end of the war. Calliope, the muse being asked for stories of the war by a man, and trying to make him understand the lives of the women torn apart by these “heroes”.

As there so many stories (far more than mentioned above), there’s a vast range of women depicted, covering so many emotions and coping mechanisms. It’s not one story, but a collection. Some women only appear in one story, others weave between. Most as third person, but Calliope speaks in first person and Penelope writes letters. I loved the variety of story telling methods used, and the dexterity with which the prose was wielded.

The more I reflect on this book and try to corral my thoughts into order, the more my admiration for this book grows and how much of an impact it’s had on me. I’m not struggling to write this book because I had no thoughts, but because I had so many. Even with this post running on to almost 500 words of review, I don’t feel like I’ve done this book justice. I think this may be one of my favourite books this year!


Read my reviews of other books by Natalie Haynes:

Standalones:

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