Book Review: A Thousand Ships

“This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of them all.” A Thousand Ships is an all-female retelling of the Trojan War, with each chapter told from the perspective of a different woman.

The book: A Thousand Ships by Natalie Hayes
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

A Thousand Ships was an uneven reading experience for me: some sections were incredibly compelling, while others felt dry and repetitive. For example, the Penthesilea and Laodamia chapters were short, and the respective protagonists of those chapters barely reappeared in the novel, so those chapters didn’t add much to the story for me. On the other hand, the longer chapters (like the Clytemnestra chapter) and the characters that reappeared throughout the story (like Cassandra) were well-developed and compelling.

Even if not all the individual characters in A Thousand Ships were well-developed, the role of women as a whole in the Trojan War was well-explored. With great detail and compassion, Haynes demonstrated that the women of the Trojan War were more than just wives and daughters of the warriors who normally take the center stage in Trojan War stories: they were complex women who experienced loss, anger, grief, and devastation. I did wish at times that Haynes had been more subtle with this message, though: there were points when it felt like she was beating the reader over the head with the message that the Trojan War was also a woman’s war. The message is important, but it would have been effectively communicated without repeated statements like: “But no one sings of the courage required by those of us who were left behind” or “he needs to accept that the casualties of war aren’t just the ones who die” or “When a war ended, the men lost their lives. But the women lost everything else.”

Something that surprised me (in a good way) was the familiarity of some of the novel’s themes and characters’ behaviors. From overpopulation stressing the Earth’s resources, to egomaniac leaders who are power-hungry yet incompetent, to women attacking other women when their real issue is with the men who hold unfair amounts of power over them — I appreciated how Haynes presented an ancient story in a way that felt somewhat relatable.

Although I normally don’t enjoy “uneven” reading experiences, A Thousand Ships was an overall enjoyable read for me. Even when the story got dull or repetitive, the prose was lovely. And certain chapters (like Clytemnestra’s chapter, which explores her emotions and motives in a beautifully written and moving way) were so powerful that they made it easy for me to overlook some of the novel’s shortcomings. I liked this all-female retelling of the Trojan War, and would certainly read more of Haynes’ work in the future (especially if she ever wrote an entire Cassandra or Clytemnestra book).

Author: Hannah Celeste

Hi! I'm Hannah, a book-blogger from the Northeastern United States. I enjoy reading many genres, cooking and baking, doing yoga, and spending time with my two cats.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: A Thousand Ships”

  1. The first book I ever read (at least that I can remember) that followed the citizens at home while men and boys were at war was the 8th Anne of Green Gables novel, entitled Rilla of Ingleside. Watching the characters check the newspaper obsessively, being out of contact, putting in their own war efforts — it was a rich story that had me all in knots because waiting is so hard. However, that doesn’t mean that the lives of those lost at war was all that mattered in the lives of those left behind; those women had their own lives, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I felt much the same about this one- overall enjoyable though it had its ups and downs. I also liked Cassandra and was happy to see her reappear throughout the book, whereas some of the other characters did not impress me- Penelope was my least favorite, even though I normally like her character! But like you I did also appreciate the modern touches (like overpopulation) which kept the story feeling relevant despite the age of the original.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I agree with you about the Penelope chapters – it felt like they were just her retelling the story of the Odyssey without any new twist on it (except for her increasing bitterness and impatience, which became redundant).

      Liked by 1 person

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