Friday, 31 May 2019

A Thousand Ships

The tale of the Trojan War has been told many times, the heros and gods taking the starring roles. But the women in the shadows had just as much impact of events, showed bravery beyond the battleground. It was a women's war and A Thousand Ships tells the story through their eyes.

This was never the story of one woman, or two. It was the story of all of them...

These retellings of The Iliad are like catnip to me although, as Natalie Haynes points out in her author's note, the source material is actually a range of epic poems, not just Homer's. Unlike The Silence of the Girls, this follows a lot of characters rather than one, but shows how you can tell the story through the women's perspectives just as well.

It starts off with Calliope becoming exasperated with an unnamed poet. As a muse he expects her to inspire his stories, and she is trying to tell him the stories of the women, to convince him theirs are just as worthy as the men's.

How much epic poetry does the world really need? Every conflict joined, every war fought, every city besieged, every town sacked, every village destroyed. Every impossible journey, every shipwreck, every homecoming: these stories have all been told, and countless times.

Some of the women's appearances are brief yet show the impact of their actions on events. They suffer grief and do what they can to protect the ones they love. They are taken as trophies of war, or sacrificed to the gods.

I loved how it went back further than most stories to explain why and how the war started. Everyone knows the war was fought over Helen, the most beautiful woman in Troy. However Natalie tells the story of the golden apple, which I hadn't heard before, and the three goddesses making Paris choose who should get it. It goes even further, to the reason why a war is needed, the pain of Gaia dealing with overpopulation, and the goddess of strife coming up with a plan.

It is also interspersed with letters from Penelope to Odysseus, gradually getting more snarky as he fails to return home. Just how many things can go that wrong? Did he really need to spend so much time with a sorceress? I loved Penelope in this.

Because it follows so many characters, I'm not sure how well this would go down with people new to the story, but I highly recommend to Greek mythology nerds! Also if you loved The Song of Achilles or The Silence of the Girls, as you'd probably have enough background on the Trojan War to follow this.

Listening Notes

If you fancy the audiobook, Natalie reads it herself and does a fantastic job. It probably helps that she is a classicist so can pronounce all the names correctly, but she also varies the narration slightly between the different women. I could always tell when it was Penelope's section.

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge: 15. A retelling of a classic

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Book Source: Purchased

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