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A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes: Book Review

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A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes has been on my to-read list for at least a year.
I wanted to read it and tried to listen to it, but eventually never did.

Until March 2023.

I was browsing through Reddit to figure out what I should read next.

In fact, I had a book to read for an upcoming book club with friends. But I also wanted something else.

And, purely by accident, I have realized that https://www.reddit.com/r/books/ has monthly AMAs with modern writers.

And March’s book was A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes.

A book I wanted to read for a while. Why not read it as a part of the Reddit book club initiative?

In this article, I will write about my impressions of A Thousand Ships and list other books this author wrote.

I’ll proceed by discussing what other people think about the book.

At the end of this article, you’ll find questions for the A Thousand Ships book club discussion and a small list of books similar to A Thousand Ships.

Natalie Haynes

Natalie Haynes is a popular English writer and classicist famous for retellings of ancient myths in both fiction and non-fiction stories.

Natalie Haynes is also a popular broadcaster. You may have listened to her on BBC Radio 4 or her show, Natalie Haynes Stands Up for the Classics.

Natalie started her career as a radio panellist and journalist. You can find more information about her career journey on Natalie Haynes’s website.

Natalie Haynes Books in Order

Natalie Haynes is famous for her retellings of ancient myths. In her books, female characters tell their stories from their own unique points of view.

I haven’t read anything else by Natalie Haynes, but even looking at the titles of her books makes me want to read more of them.

Below you will find a complete list of Natalie Haynes’s books in their publishing order:

Now let’s dive into A Thousand Ships book review.

A Thousand Ships — Story Overview

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

A Thousand Ships tells us a story of the Trojan War from the point of view of various female characters.

War impacts everything and everyone. However, women’s voices are often silenced in such stories.

As Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, says in the book:

Men’s deaths are epic, women’s deaths are tragic: is that it? He has misunderstood the very nature of conflict. Epic is countless tragedies, woven together. Heroes don’t become heroes without carnage, and carnage gas both causes and consequences. And those don’t begin and end on a battlefield.

These sentences reflect the main idea of the story. War is not only about heroes and their epic deaths. After all,

When a war was ended, the men lost their lives. But the women lost everything else.

A Thousand Ships is a collection of tragedies and stories of those women who lost everything else.

The book consists of 43 chapters.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of a particular woman who, more or less, but still devastating, was impacted by this war.

Some of the main characters include:

  • Calliope — the muse of epic poetry. An ancient poet is requesting her to sing and inspire him to write a story about this glorious war;
  • The Trojan Women: Hecabe, Andromache, Cassandra, Polyxena — all princesses and queens of Troy once, now slaves of Greeks who killed their husbands and destroyed their city;
  • Penelope is patiently waiting for her beloved husband to come back home;
  • Clytemnestra has been praying daily for her husband Agamemnon to die at war for sacrificing their daughter.

Every story tells us what happened to all these women during and after the war. At the same time, we are given a retrospective of what caused this war and how everything began.

I’d like to dwell on what I liked and didn’t like about the story.

What I liked about A Thousand Ships

A Thousand Ships is a great way to recap ancient myths if you need a complete picture of the Trojan War.

Every piece of the story adds up to another one, and by the end of the book, you have finally completed that puzzle about gods & humans and how the fates of whole cities sometimes are decided by someone’s whim.

I enjoyed the retelling because I didn’t know all of the story’s details.

For example, I didn’t realize that the Apple of Discord was directly tied to the Trojan War.

If you don’t know this too — you will like this book.

Also, as the book is about the perspectives of different ancient Greek women, I will name my favourite characters and their stories.

Remember that there will be slight spoilers from now on, although it’s difficult to spoil something in a story everyone knows.

  • Andromache — a wife of Hector who becomes captive of Neoptolemus, son of Achilles. Her story has broken my heart into many sharp pieces. The most heartbreaking is the part where she learns to live with Neoptolemus and, maybe, even love him a bit? The way life in her makes her keep living is astonishing and devastating at the same time.
  • Clytemnestra — a wife of Agamemnon, whom he despises for killing their daughter Iphigenia to gain favor at war. I was impressed how this woman feeds on revenge and lives on this feeling for all years while waiting for Agamemnon to return home — just to avenge their daughter.
  • Laodamia — my second favorite character story is Laodamia. She represents women left alone at home while their husbands sailed to Troy. Laodamia’s husband, Protestilaus, is the first soldier killed at war. He is Laodamia’s world, and she doesn’t know how to live without him. I also have two favorite quotes from her story:

Because the Spartan king had lost his queen, a hundred queens lost their kings.

and

Who could love a coward, she had once heard a woman say. Laodamia knew the answer. Someone for whom the alternative is loving a corpse.

Here is the Amazon book link if you want to check it out.

What I didn’t like about A Thousand Ships

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel a deep emotional connection with the characters. Sometimes the story felt just like the myth retelling and nothing more.

This may be how it should have been, or others had a different experience with the story, but this is how I felt when reading A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes.

I also want to add one female character whose part I didn’t like at all.

That’s Penelope.

Her letters to Odysseus didn’t strike me emotionally too. These were just the Odysseus myths retellings as if Penelope heard them being told by the bards.

Penelope’s part doesn’t add anything new for the whole story but for one thing.

In one of her letters, Penelope contemplates what would happen if they sacrificed Telemachus and Odysseus stayed at home.

She dreams of the possibility of having other children, yet at the same time, she dreads the very thought.

What people say about A Thousand Ships

Positive reviews

a thousand ships - positive feedback
Agree with everything here, but, as you already know, Penelope was not my favorite part. The only difference, though!

a thousand ships - goodreads
I’m on the same page with Maureen here that once you finish the story — it all comes together, and it is beautiful.

a thousand ships book
I like how Michelle puts it: “This was never a story of one woman or two. It was the story of all of them”.

Neutral and negative reviews

a thousand ships by natalie haynes
That’s an astute comment!

a thousand ships

I agree on this with Amina. I also didn’t feel that that’s a strongly feminist book.

Books Like A Thousand Ships

f you liked A Thousand Ships book, and even if you didn’t like it, but you like ancient myths retellings, below are three books like A Thousand Ships to enhance your reading experience:

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad

That’s a very short book you can read in one day. Compared to Natalie Haynes’ depiction of Penelope, Margaret Atwood’s Penelope has more to tell.

Atwood’s Penelope is a complex character.

In Penelopiad, we learn how Penelope lives all those years while she is waiting for Odysseus.

Penelopiad is full of secrets and ambiguity, making it more realistic.

Honestly, can you make a woman wait twenty years and say that all she was doing was waiting? There is more to that, and that’s the story of Penelopiad.

Get the book from Amazon

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

the song of achilles

My most favorite beautiful and sad story. Recently, I added The Song of Achilles as an excellent book to get out of the reading slump. And I keep recommending it in all my articles.

But this is also a great book if you like ancient myth retellings.

The Song of Achilles tells us the story of Achilles and Patroclus, how they met, grew up and went to war together.

I fell in love with this story a few years ago when I read it, and I can’t help but recommend it again.

Mind that your heart may be shattered.

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe

Circe is the second book by Madeline Miller I read.

It’s also the retelling of an old myth, this time the story of Circe.

We’ll meet Odysseus again, Medea, the Minotaur and other famous personalities of Ancient Greek myths.

In my opinion, Circe is more feminist than A Thousand Ships. This is a story of a strong woman and the difficult life choices she has to make to survive in a cruel world reigned by Zeus.

If you are looking for more books like A Thousand Ships, check out this article.

A Thousand Ships: Book Club Discussion Questions

In this paragraph, you will find A Thousand Ships book club questions:

  • Before reading the book, did you have any expectations about the book? If so, which ones?
  • What is the book’s rating as of now before you start a book club discussion?
  • Do you have favorite characters in this story? Who are they?
  • What do you think of Laodamia’s quote that it’s better to love a coward than a corpse? Do you agree or disagree?
  • Andromache has become a slave of Achilles’ son, Neoptolomeus. As the story progress, we see Andromache developing some emotions for this man — the son of someone who killed Hector, her late husband. Is it possible to understand and justify Andromache? Do you sympathize with her?
  • Is A Thousand Ships a feminist book for you? Explain why or why not.
  • Natalie Haynes states that women in the Trojan cycle are “forgotten, ignored … hidden”, and she creates A Thousand Ships story to compensate for that. Many reviewers say this is not true, as women characters are central figures in many tragedies by Euripides, Ovid, etc. What do you think about this?
  • How did you feel after reading the book compared to your pre-reading expectations?
  • Is your rating for the book the same after the book club? Or is it higher / lower?

I hope you enjoy your A Thousand Ships book clubs, and if you have any other interesting questions to add – throw them in the comments :)

A Thousand Ships: FAQs

Finally, let’s wrap up this A Thousand Ships book review with answers to frequently asked questions about the book:

What is the book A Thousand Ships about?

A Thousand Ships is a story of the Trojan War told from the perspective of women. The book contains points of view of different characters such as Penelope, Calliope, Clytemnestra, Iphigenia, Laodamia, Andromache, Hecabe, Cassandra and some others.

How does A Thousand Ships end?

In the last chapters of A Thousand Ships, we learn about the aftermath of the war. Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon and Cassandra, Penelope meets Odysseus at home, and Andromache gives birth to Neoptolomeus’ son and, when Neoptolomeus is killed, becomes the wife of Trojan Helenus.

Who is the narrator of A Thousand Ships?

Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, is the story’s main narrator. Also, the story is narrated by different characters throughout the book, such as Penelope, Andromache, Cassandra, Clytemnestra, etc.

How many pages are in the book A Thousand Ships?

The hardcover format has 368 pages.

Are Achilles and Patroclus lovers in A Thousand Ships?

No. There is no reference to Achilles and Patroclus being lovers in A Thousand Ships.

A Thousand Ships Publisher

HarperCollins

A Thousand Ships Age Rating

According to Amazon book details, this story is recommended for 18-year-olds.

Conclusion

A Thousand Ships is a good book if you are willing to discover more takes on classic stories. It’s short, reads quickly, and tells an interesting story.

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