Book Review: A Thousand Ships

Natalie Haynes

Rating: 3 out of 5.

published: 2nd May 2019
spoilers? nope


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…

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.

A war does not ignore half the people whose lives it touches. So why do we?

Galley provided by publisher

I’m always happy to read a book that takes a woman’s perspective on an event or tale that has historically only focused on the men (I think we can all agree that men, mainly the straight white ones, have had enough of a voice historically speaking). So, of course, I was looking forward to this book. And I did like it. The three-star rating attests to that. But I just didn’t like it as much as I wanted to.

A Thousand Ships is a retelling of the aftermath of the Trojan War, from the points of view of the women who hardly ever get a look-in when the story is told. There’s no particular starting point to the story – it flicks back and forth depending on who’s narrating – so, in a way, it has less a narrative structure and is more an examination of the thoughts and feelings of the various actors. And there are quite a few of them.

I think the biggest issue I had with the book was that the POVs weren’t all that distinguishable. It’s one of those ones where if you miss reading the chapter title, you might take a moment to realise whose POV it is. The most distinguishable, and therefore, my favourites, were Calliope and Penelope. Partly because they were in first person, so actually had engaging voices. The rest of the POVs were third person (though omniscient) narratives, and it felt pretty same-y after a while. Penelope and Calliope got to have something more like personality. I especially enjoyed the parts of Penelope’s chapters where she was busy getting (snarkily) pissed off at Odysseus. (Even though there was some woman-hating going on. I guess that would be partly understandable (Odysseus does bugger off for 20 years, and spend a good chunk of the latter ten hanging out with women who aren’t his wife), but given that the whole book is about the untold women’s stories of the war, and recognising that actually men are to blame for this whole mess, even as we tend to attribute it all to Helen? It just felt… I don’t know, cheap?)

Probably the reason I didn’t find the POVs that distinct was in the writing. It was good writing, but it was very descriptive at points, and a lot of what was happening was going on in the minds of the women, so it felt pretty ponderous. And it felt like that for all of them. There were some great quotes that made me go ‘oh‘, but there were then lulls between those moments. All of which ultimately meant the writing wasn’t quite for me.

So, in the end, this was a book with a great concept, that just turned out not quite fulfilled as well as I was hoping.

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