Cover Image: A Thousand Ships

A Thousand Ships

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

A THOUSAND SHIPS tells the story of the women of the Trojan War and the devastating impact of war on the lives of non-combatants. Modern retellings of the classic epics so often fall flat, or try so hard to be edgy that they lose all the appeal of the original. The tragic story of the Trojan women stands on its own merits, and Natalie Haynes has infused new life into these classic stories without resorting to hackish "subversions" of the narrative. Well-executed and engaging. My only complaint is the "Muse" chapters, which express the narrative goal of the novel but distract from the overall story.
Was this review helpful?
This book is great! Would definitely recommend. Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
Was this review helpful?
I loved this female perspective of Homer’s Iliad.  I am pleased to see that several authors are challenged the male view.  There are plenty of female characters here. They are just as courageous as their husbands battling one another.  Its been a long time since I’ve read Homer’s tale and I had to do some research to put all the pieces of A Thousand Ships together but it was well worth it. I’m still at a loss as to why the Greeks would go to war over a woman like Helen. Seems like they had plenty of other more compliant women. Greek mythology and stories seem to be the first soap operas. There’s so much going on.
Was this review helpful?
This historical fiction about the Trojan War reads like non-fiction. The passages covering the action of battle lack excitement, and the passages without action are a slog. Luckily, the audiobook is a short one. The story may be easier to enjoy in print.

The chapters are from the point of view of the women involved in the war including Helen of Troy, Calliope, Hecate, Briseis, Chryseis, Penelope, Aphrodite, Hera, Athena, and more.

Natalie Haynes' pronunciation of Greek names is proper and not what a casual reader would expect. Her narration is monotone and doesn't contribute to an already dry story.

Recommended only for staunch fans of Greek mythology, especially those looking for a less androcentric account of Troy.
Was this review helpful?
A muse compels a poet to tell the stories of the Greek and Trojan women who witnessed the fall of Troy, who witnessed the fall of their husbands and brothers and fathers, their grief and their vengeance. She forces him, and the reader, to stare down their suffering and their sacrifice during the Trojan War and, ultimately, to come away with a question for the Greek kings and heroes and countless soldiers and the gods and goddesses themselves: "was it worth it?" Compelling characters and perspectives abound in "A Thousand Ships," and emotionally gripping stories, too.

I read "A Thousand Ships" right after finishing Madeline Miller's "The Song of Achilles" and I highly recommend the experience. The juxtaposition between women's stories of the war and Patroclus' stories of Achilles was truly fun.
Was this review helpful?
A Thousand Ships is a remarkable retelling of the Trojan War told from the perspectives of the women involved. This is a story I didn’t know I needed, but am so glad it exists. We don’t often hear from the women in in these ancient myths. Although, we know Helen’s face launched a thousand ships. It’s incredible to read tales we already know, but to add a new layer of depth and perspective is just amazing. The writing is excellent and the characters are so well-developed. If you’re a fan of Greek or Norse mythology retellings, do yourself a favor and check out A Thousand Ships immediately. Highly recommended!
Was this review helpful?
I plowed my way through this one. I was surprised by how fresh the story felt, how much I loved the writing and the characters. Highly recommend for book groups.
Was this review helpful?
“A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?”

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes highlights the women of The Trojan War through intimate retellings of how they affected and were affected by the events.

Their stories make your heart ache. They bring far more depth and personality to the women than the fleeting references in the stories which focus on men. The book uses a collection of voices, like a series of letters from Penelope to her husband Odysseus across many years and zoomed in dialogue of the moments that defined their lives.

It has a large cast of characters and is not told chronologically. This setup might not work everyone. I am not well-versed in mythology and slowed down my reading pace a bit, but found it pretty easy to follow despite the non-linear style.

I loved the lightbulb moments when the story made a connection to an earlier chapter or characters known from other books, like Circe by Madeline Miller. If you enjoyed other mythological stories, you’ll appreciate where this fits into and adds to the universe.

I recommend reading Haynes’ afterword as well to learn more about her sources and inspiration!
Was this review helpful?
3.5
Retelling of the Trojan War from the women's points of view. Felt a little forced. The best bits were Penelope's sarcastic letters to Odyseuss but even those were annoying; she's meant to be all patient and loyal but she was mostly whiny.
Was this review helpful?
If you’re familiar with the Ancient Greek story of the Battle of Troy, then you’ve most likely heard the phrase “the face that launched a thousand ships,” and heard about Helen. Well, this is a story of not only her, but of all the other women during those years of upheaval. 

This epic novel is “powerfully told from an all-female perspective, A Thousand Ships gives voices to the women, girls and goddesses who, for so long, have been silent.” It was cleverly done and I enjoyed reading from the various points of view. 

So much of ancient history texts are told through the voices of men. It is really nice to experience more fictional stories providing the female perspective we’ve been missing out on. This book is essentially a feminist approach to Homer, so if you’re a fan of The Iliad and The Odyssey you will have fun with this read. 
I give it 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 for this review
Was this review helpful?
Honestly, this book disappointed me. Too many characters, the storyline waffled all over the place, and as much as I loved a story featuring Greek mythological women, but the narrative was all too jumbled. together to make a lot of sense for me. I'm somewhat aware of the Greek heroines of myth, constantly flipping back and forth in an e-galley to make sense of the newest character's perspective on the battle and conquest of Troy became too much. I LOVE this era of history so much, and there are some wonderful historical novels featuring Helen of Troy, Cassandra, etc--but less characters would have made for better development of the story and transformation of the individuals Haynes focuses on. A miss for me.
Was this review helpful?
I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Retelling of a Greek myth.
Was this review helpful?
In A Thousand Ships, Natalie Haynes takes the events of the Trojan War — along with what led to it and what followed — and offers them up in familiar form but a form as viewed/experienced through different eyes: those of the women from both sides who experienced as much if not more of the war’s horrors even if (save for one point-of-view) they didn’t actually fight in it. 

Haynes frames her story through the voice of Calliope, who, as an unnamed poet (Homer one assumes) calls upon her to be his muse, wonders “How much epic poetry does the world really need . . . these stories have all been told, and countless times. Can he really believe he has something new to say?”  Regardless, Calliope does engage, though perhaps not as the poet desired:  I’m offering him the story of all the women in the war. Well, most of them.”  And in short order we’re introduced to, among others: Penelope, Briseis, Chryseis, Iphigenia, Hecabe, Cassandra, Clytemnestra, and Andromache. Nearly 20 women in all — some Greek, some Trojan, some mortal, some divine (some half and half) — are given voice through a series of mostly short chapters. Some are given a single vignette to tell their tale; others we return to several times. Calliope, for instance, intervenes as a sort of meta-narrator, while Penelope shows up in the form of several letters she writes to the husband she will not see for 20 years. 

Some of the stories will be highly familiar (spoiler alert for the millennia-old plots) — Clytemnestra killing of Agamemnon upon his return, Paris’ stealing away Helen, Penelope nightly unweaving a burial shroud to forestall the suitors. Others will be familiar to those who have read beyond the usual high school/college assignments, Haynes taking their stories from the lesser works (some fragments or even lost). And some were wholly unfamiliar to me, though if that’s from my lack of deep classical training or that Hayne’s spun them out of her own imagination I can’t say. 

The different stories vary in their effectiveness, but there is a general flatness to many of them and unfortunately the whole is not greater than its parts. One of the problems is alluded to in the above quote by Calliope asking if there is anything new to bring to this oft-told tale, and I can’t say the shift to the women’s POV is enough “new.”  One reason is that some of the stories are so familiar, and the chapters so short, that several of them read in large portions as summaries of stories we already know. Penelope’s letter especially fall prey to this, with them serving in large part to simply recap The Odyssey. Obviously, familiarity isn’t a barrier to success, as one can easily list of host of authors who have retold these same stories or others to great impact (see below), but those authors grow beyond the original tale, either by fleshing out the stories with far greater detail (and thus far greater “story”), taking them in different directions, or at the least elevating them beyond the simply familiar via style, language, or characterization. And A Thousand Ships just doesn’t offer enough of any of those possibilities. 

Calliope is too blunt a tool as narrator, loudly announcing themes we should have picked up from the stories themselves — that the voices of women matter, that just because the stories left them out didn’t mean they were not there, that heroism can be displayed by other means than sticking someone with the sharp end of a stick. Penelope offers up the occasional bit of wittily wry commentary on her wayward husband’s journey but buried as it is amidst too much plot summary, she’s never given the chance to truly show us how, as she says, she’s more clever than “Clever Odysseus” beyond the well-worn tale of her weaving and unweaving. The story of Briseis also suffers from too much summary, robbing it of some of its impact at the end when, for the first time amongst her horrors, she cries. A section from Gaia’s point of view explaining the origin of the war, where she complains to Zeus of humanity becoming a crushing burden to her, “taking more from her that she had to give—trees denuded of their fruits, fields ploughed until they could give up no more crops,” is based on a few classical references, but it’s such an unfamiliar story to most I’m guessing that in its brevity and lack of context it will most be read as a clumsily-inserted attempt at environmental topicality (the cause most will remember — Paris choosing the most beautiful goddess from amongst Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite is actually one of the most lively vignettes). 

That brevity works against several of the stories, which have their moments, and it can’t be denied at times their emotional impact, but because we haven’t spent much time with these characters individually, and we already knew what was going to happen to them, that impact is either blunted or doesn’t feel wholly earned, as is the case for instance with Iphigenia or, at the end, Andromache. While the sheer number of voices does provide, as Calliope says, “the chance to see the war from both ends . . . Epic in scale and subject,” it comes at a cost. That isn’t to say Haynes doesn’t provide any powerful moments, just that they’re too few and far between. Interestingly, I’d also say that the ones that do strike with the most impact are those centered on less familiar characters, such as the mountain nymph Paris abandoned for Helen, or the vignette involving the Goddess of Discord, Eris. I also found myself wishing that if the idea were to provide a multiplicity of voices, that we could have heard from several women who were not royal or divine. If  heroism and importance isn’t limited to simply men, it also equally isn’t limited to higher classes.

Finally, while the language and style make for smooth passage through the novel, it doesn’t as noted elevate the material, rarely rising to a point where one lingers over the startlement of a metaphor, the beauty of a construction, the layering of meaning. It’s adequate to plot, but not, I’d say to story, if that makes sense. And here is where Haynes falls victim to simple bad luck. 

It is certainly no fault of Natalie Haynes that A Thousand Ships comes out in recent memory of several others that also retold Greek myths from a female perspective, some of these very same stories from the very same points of view, albeit in much more moving, much more lyrically eloquent fashion:  Madeline Miller’s Circe, Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls, and (albeit via a somewhat less feminist slant) House of Names by Colm Toiban. You write the book inside you when it’s inside you. Unfortunately though, those books — two absolutely fantastic and one good — can’t help but cast a long shadow on Haynes work. If I hadn’t read those three works in the past year, I would have hemmed and hawed on a recommendation for A Thousand Ships, but with those in mind, and fully understanding Haynes has a different intent, I can’t help but recommend that if you’re going to read any novelistic feminist retelling of a Greek myth, you should start with those three (in that order). And then, if you haven’t been sated on Greek myth, maybe turn to A Thousand Ships (though I might suggest earlier works to pick up first).
Was this review helpful?
In the current trend of revisiting the classics with a feminist perspective, Haynes will find herself in the same conversations as Madeline Miller and Margaret Atwood. A Thousand Ships appears straightforward at first, but each section builds a new layer of depth to the stories told by and for men of their conquest, machismo, and “heroism.”  The writing is crisp and impactful while allowing the emotions of the scenes to come to the forefront. An excellent read.
Was this review helpful?
This novel isn't just a modern re-telling of the great Homeric epics. It's perfect for the classroom in the sense that it also follows all the textbook characteristics of the Modernist/Post-Modernist style. Teachers wishing to shine light on the misogyny, toxic masculinity, privileged perspectives, etc. of the classics could use this book as a contrast to the originals. The book is told instead from the silenced or limited points of view of the women of the Trojan epics, emphasizing an alternative definition of heroism as summoning the psychological strength to survive. It's also a testament to the down-home truism that no matter how good-looking or famous or strong some man is, some woman somewhere, even the ever-patient Penelope, is sick of his shit. Through multiple points of view and disjointed timelines, we see how the  paragons of masculinity failed their women and how the disparities in power and social class corrupt absolutely in a painfully remembered past. Haynes also parallels the brutality of war with the brutality of her prose. Don't expect lyricism or beauty here. War doesn't make heroes; rather it's Gaia's tool of population control. The epic poets may have commanded Calliope to "Sing, Muse.," but Haynes' muse bites and scorns and stabs until the reader recognizes the old stories also include the worst as well as the best of god and man (and woman).
Was this review helpful?
What an interesting take on the classics! Haynes gives us a story that combines the tales from the Iliad, the Odyssey, and others and offers us the tale from the female perspective. What readers know about the tale of the Trojan War is largely that Helen was stolen by Paris from her rightful husband Menelaus whose brother Agamemnon then leads the Greeks in a war against the Trojans to get her back. Hector kills Patroclus, Achilles kills Hector, and Odysseus goes on for another 10 years trying to find his way back home. This retelling gives us a glimpse into characters that may have only been mentioned in one line previously. It is an ode to how women are oftentimes forgotten about in the grand scheme of things but are prized possessions nonetheless. Penelope, Odysseus's wife, had a tendency to drone on at times. Not all that surprising due to the epic journey her husband had getting home. The muse Calliope was delightful and dispelled some of the gloom that surrounding the women's stories. A must read for all fans of Madeline Miller.
Was this review helpful?
All the stars. Five stars. Ten stars. This book blew me away. I love fiction set in ancient times, and I am a sucker for anything involving the Trojan War, but this book was epic. Homer himself would be proud. Ms. Haynes does a fantastic job at bringing all of the characters and their individual storylines to life, Her prose is incredible and she deserves the award that this book was nominated for (in my not-so-humble opinion). If you loved "Silence of the Girls" by Pat Barker, this book will be your new favorite.
Was this review helpful?
A Thousand Ships
A Novel
by Natalie Haynes
Harper
 You Like Them You Are Auto-Approved
General Fiction (Adult) | Historical Fiction | Literary Fiction
Pub Date 26 Jan 2021   |   Archive Date 23 Mar 2021

An interesting journey into the Trojan War and the women behind it.  I liked the book.  Thanks to Harper and NetGalley for the ARC. 

3 star
Was this review helpful?
I learned one thing from all of this: Paris was utterly, completely, and intolerably stupid.

This was so beautiful, brutal, and heavy. If you’re looking for a fluffy piece about the iconic but unheard women in your favorite Greek classics (though when have those stories ever been fluffy, honestly?), this isn’t the book for you. It’s raw, and it’s honest, and it hurts a little. Okay, a LOT. I like to think of certain books such as these as medicine: good for you, but hard to swallow.

I also really liked how Odysseus was written. He was (as always) infuriating, but clever. He’s the guy you just hate to love. And I absolutely adored Penelope’s perspective. The gradual souring of her temper as Odysseus takes his time coming home was a glorious wonder.

It was so fantastically written, but my heart broke for all of these women. These ferocious, unforgiving, strong women. The book gave a very much needed voice to the heroines in our most foundational classics. Oh, and did I mention how much I loved seeing these toddlers with horrifying power and unnatural beauty fight over an apple? I mean, erhm, the Greek Goddesses. 

Big thank you to Harper Publishing + Netgalley for sending me an ARC of this book!
Was this review helpful?
An interesting journey into the Trojan War and the women connected to it. From royalty to the enslaved, goddesses to muses, Haynes' characters are relatable and the book, as a whole, is enjoyable. The chapters of some characters (primarily Calliope and Penelope) were more engaging and I found myself looking to return to their sections while reading through others.
Was this review helpful?