The war that launched a thousand ships has come to an end. Troy has been burned by the Greeks. Thousands of men lost their lives, but even more women lost everything. From the Trojan queen Hecabe and her daughters, the Greek women Penelope and Laodamia awaiting their husband’s fate, the nymph Oenone who was abandoned by Paris to the fighting Hera, Aphrodite and Athene. This is the Trojan war trough the eyes of the women, girls and goddesses who lost everything. Their home, their family and their body.
It’s no secret that I love Greek retellings, especially of the Trojan war. In recent years, I read a few books who offer a female perspective on those events. Both ‘The silence of the girls‘ and ‘The song of Achilles‘ heavily focus on the relationship between Briseis, Achilles and Patroclus. ‘A thousand ships‘ has a more ambitious premise and wants to give more women a voice.
The books opens with the Trojan Creusa waking up in the dead of the night of a fire. Troy is burning. Odysseus’ list with the wooden horse has worked. A few of the coming chapters are set on the Trojan beach after the war, when the royal woman of Troy, all except Cassandra who already sees what will happen, are awaiting their fate. But we also discover what happened during the war and go back to the events that caused it in the first place. Was it really all about Paris and Helen falling in love? Or were there greater forces at play?
From the mount Olympus, where in one of my favourite chapters three goddesses are fighting for a golden apple, to the battlefield where the Amazon princess Penthesilea is fighting Achilles, the same Achilles Menelaus’ daughter Iphigenia thought she was going to wed on the last day of her life. Haynes writes a clever novel about so many women, even some lesser known such as Laodamia or Chryseis. The main perspective is that of Calliope, the muse of epic poetry who hears a calling from Homer to write this story.
Where Miller really followed the classic interpretation of Homer, Haynes uses a lot of ancients texts and plays to tell this story. So it’s no direct interpretation of the Iliad. This makes for a more modern feeling and some twists that were new to me. But it is such a gripping and entertaining novel at the same time. The chapters are short, and sometimes you wish you can get to know the woman a bit better before moving on to the next one, but all together this is a great introduction to the ancient story. For both newcomers and fans.
Some people are disappointed in her use of different classical texts, others had hoped the story would be even more feministic. The focus is on the story of the women but of course men are still prominent. Penelope is waiting for her beloved husband Odysseus (who is just not a worthy man, can we agree on that?), Klythemnestra is full of hatred and revenge for Agamemnom (I didn’t like the Klythemnestra in this book, I preferred ‘Daughters of Sparta‘ and ‘The house of names’) and Paris chooses Aphrodite because he’s promised the most beautiful princess of Greece (leaving his first wife Oenone and his son behind, Oenone’s chapter was also one of my favourites).
As Haynes tells us in her afterword that Cassandra is her favourite, I’m waiting for her (or another author) to give that girl her own novel. She definitely deserves that. If you like Greek retellings or you want to give this ‘genre’ a try, then I highly recommend to start with ‘A thousand ships’.
Have you read this one? What’s your favourite Greek myth retelling?