A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

After reading 15 Stephen King books in a row, I wanted something different. A friend at work recommended this one, and I absolutely loved it. I devoured it in less than 24 hours, and frankly I want to turn right back to the first page and read it again.

The book recounts the events of the Trojan War from the perspective of the women who were overlooked in the original tellings. And not just the expected characters, like Helen. Haynes focuses on the women on the edge of the tale. Those who lost their husbands and sons. Those left to deal with the aftermath of such an idiotic conflict (seriously, who starts a decade long war over their wife’s infidelity?). Even the goddesses who were making moves behind the scenes of the conflict. It is a fascinating and refreshing take on a thousands year old story.

There is so much good here that I don’t really know where to begin. One of my favorite features of the book is the portrayal of Calliope, the muse Homer invokes at the beginning oa his epics. Her disdain for Homer’s constant requests for inspiraton provide some levity to the text and give her more personality than any portrayal of the character that I remember from my previous forays into Greek mythology. I also enjoyed the sections focusing on Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. Her chapters are presented as letters, mostly written to her husband although one of the more moving ones was written to Athene. These letters do a great job of capturing the emotions felt by a wife left behind to raise her soldier husband’s child while also recounting the familiar tale of The Odyssey.

There were also standout segments from characters that I was less familiar with. About a third of the way through the book, we are presented with a chapter from the perspective of Laodamia. Her husband was, according to the story, the first Greek off the boat and the first one to fall in the war. Haynes captures her grief and despair so compellingly. And an act of kindness by the local blacksmith provided a beautifully profound moment between two people of very different social classes being united by loss. It is a great interlude in a book full of interesting, compelling moments.

A Thousand Ships is a great read. A new take on a tale this old is hard to find, but Haynes definitely made the old stories feel reinvigorated. I am glad I was introduced to it and I highly recommend it.

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