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).

Would You Rather Book Tag

Thank you to Gilana for tagging me in this book tag – it looks like so much fun! Gil is a wonderful book blogger who reviews a variety of genres, and has recently been reading through the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist. I definitely recommend checking out her blog!

The rules:

  1. Answer the questions given to you by your nominator.
  2. Make up your own questions and tag others.

My answers to gil’s questions:

1. Would you rather only read mass market paperbacks or only read stiff, non-floppy paperbacks?

Tough choice, but I’ll go with non-floppy paperbacks. Mass-market paperbacks tend to have smaller print, which strains my rapidly declining eyes. Also, many new contemporary and literary fiction books are only available as non-floppy paperbacks. If I could only read mass-market paperbacks, I would miss out on some great new books!

2. Would you rather have your favourite character be a terrible person in real life or your favourite author be horrible in real life?

Have my favorite character be a terrible person in real-life. Like Gil said, some of my favorite characters are unlikable anyway, so it wouldn’t be shocking (or a problem for me) if I met them in real life and they were awful.

3. Would you rather meet your favourite booktubers or meet your favourite book blogger?

I don’t do BookTube, so definitely meet my favorite book blogger. The challenge here would be picking just ONE favorite book blogger, because there are many that I would love the opportunity to chat with in real life!

4. Would you rather have to dog-ear your pages or have to write on them?

I am a chaotic monster and do both of these things already. I dog-ear pages mainly out of habit; I’ve just done it that way since I was a kid. I write on pages intentionally because it helps me engage with the book more, and process/internalize it better. So if I could only do one of these blasphemous things, it would be writing on book pages.

5. Would you rather have a damaged book delivered to you every time or the wrong book to be delivered to you every time (the second or third time you may get the right one)?

This is a tough choice because I could potentially be okay with both of these. But I’ll pick having a damaged book delivered every time (as long as the damage doesn’t interfere with my ability to read the book). Having the wrong book delivered would eventually get on my nerves, especially if I wanted the book for a reading challenge with a deadline (like reading through the WP longlist before the winner announcement) or a book club.

6. Would you rather be a librarian or a bookseller?

Librarian! If I ever decided to (somewhat radically) change career paths, I would seriously consider a degree in library sciences.

7. Would you rather have your favourite character die in the end or have your favourite character not complete their mission/life goal?

Have my favorite character not complete their mission/life goal. I could see myself getting really into a book where a character fails to complete their mission, but realizes that the journey was still worth it, and that their inherent value as a human being is not defined by their successes or failures. Or a book where a character fails at what they thought their mission was, only to realize that they were prioritizing the wrong things in life. It’s cheesy, but it could be done really well!

8. Would you rather live in a library in space or a live in a library under the sea?

I love Gil’s idea of an underwater city in a sealed vessel, so library under the sea!

9. Would you rather not be able to read any books from your favourite author or have them not publish anything again?

Copying Gil’s answer again: have them never publish anything again, so that way I could at least read and re-read their previous works.

10. Would you rather read everything ever published (even the worst books) or read only one book a year?

I know that it would be impossible to read everything ever published, and that it would entail a lot of books that aren’t good matches for me. But I absolutely love reading and can’t imagine my life without it as a constant…so I would TRY to read everything ever published.

my questions:

  1. Would you rather read an amazing book with a disappointing ending, or a book that is lackluster but gets really good at the end?
  2. Would you rather read only books from your favorite authors, or only books from new authors?
  3. Would you rather write a book (and it could be about anything), or have somebody write a book based on you?
  4. Would you rather read books only as ebooks for the rest of your life, or only listen to them as audiobooks?
  5. Would you rather read only books from series, or read whatever you want EXCEPT that you’d never be able to finish a series?
  6. Would you rather read on the beach or in a cozy cabin in the snow?
  7. Would you rather read in public a book that makes you laugh hysterically or one that makes you ugly cry?
  8. Would you rather read your favorite book out loud to someone else, or listen to a friend read their favorite book out loud to you?
  9. Would you rather be transported to the world of your favorite fantasy/sci-fi novel, or the world of your favorite historical fiction novel?
  10. Would you rather perform in a Shakespeare play, or write a re-telling/re-imagination of one?

I tag…

  • Nirmala @ Red Lips & Bibliomaniacs
  • Rose @ Novels & Teacups
  • Beth @ Beth’s Bookish Backpacking
  • Fatma @ The Book Place
  • Neriman @ Reading Under The Olive Tree
  • Anybody else who wants to do this!!

If you were tagged and can’t or don’t want to do this, please don’t feel pressured to participate. Also, this tag is open to anybody who wants to participate! If you do post your answers to this, please tag me or let me know in the comments so I can read your answers! 🙂