“A Thousand Ships” by Natalie Haynes

Thanks to Pan Macmillan and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

Every so often a book appears on NetGalley that makes me slam the Request button with extreme prejudice whilst muttering fervent prayers to the publishing gods. This was one of those books and I was so excited and chuffed when I was approved for it.

I am a big..nay, HUGE fan of Natalie Haynes. The Amber Fury actually inspired me to return to teaching despite thinking I never would. When I have my horrible third years on a Friday afternoon I think of the class from that book. I’ve been looking forward to this book since I heard it was in the pipeline.

So, enough gushing. How was it? WELL IT WAS AMAZING, I’d go as far to say it is Haynes’ best book yet.

The book puts the women involved in the Trojan War front and centre. Some women who are mere footnotes or referred to in passing in The Iliad and The Odyssey are fleshed out and jump from the page to tell us their tales of war, family, love and loss. This is impressive considering some of the women’s stories are just a few pages long. Despite this, they all feel credible and unique and I really got a feel for each of the individual characters.

You know when you watch The Lion King and you hope that this time, things will be different? Mufasa will make it up the cliff and all will be well? That’s pretty much how I felt reading this book. Andromache’s story was particularly gut wrenching, as it always is, but Haynes has managed to add another layer of humanity and tragedy to her fate. Get the tissues ready folks.

The Trojan Women chapters were interspersed between the other women’s narratives and the growing sense of tension and unease as they await their bleak fate was very affecting and had echoes of Cacoyannis’ 1971 film adaptation of the Euripides play.

This book takes an unflinching look at women’s experience of war and is surprisingly contemporary with parallels to be drawn between women’s lot in both historical and modern warfare. I couldn’t help thinking how similar the treatment of the Trojan Women was to that experienced by Yazidi women for example.

The stories are woven throughout the book using a variety of formats and writing techniques. I particularly enjoyed Penelope’s letters to Odysseus and how Calliope almost broke the fourth wall.

It was also interesting how the roles of men and women in these great epics were essentially reversed. ‘Great’ heroes were reduced to mere cameos and we saw that many are not so great after all. Focus was kept always on the women.

Overall, I loved this and have already pre-ordered the final version of the book. Not an easy read by any means but I absolutely adored it and it managed to exceed my already high expectations.

P.S. Agamemnon is the WORST.

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