A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes
Recommended by Liz Welter of Novel Bay Books, 44 N. 3rd Ave. in Sturgeon Bay
With the onset of pandemic blahs and gray winter freezes, a good book provides a satisfying escape. One of the best new books to provide that respite is A Thousand Ships: a majestic and sweeping chronicle of the Trojan War and its aftermath, told from the perspective of the many women, girls and goddesses who were involved in the famous epic poems The Iliad and The Odyssey.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with these, this well-written and compelling tale will sweep you away. It’s a fiercely dynamic novel that’s a women’s epic, putting their stories at the forefront of an ancient tale.
The pacing of the book is brilliant as Haynes weaves together sections of tragedy and comedy so that the grief, loss and pain endured by the women isn’t overwhelming for the reader.
The letters written by Penelope to her husband, Odysseus, for example, are humorous as she wonders why it’s consuming years for him to sail back to his kingdom, whereas the ships of the other remaining Greek kings and soldiers promptly return to their islands after the war.
Other mirthful sections focus on Calliope, the Greek muse of eloquence and epic poetry, as she complains about the poet, Homer, as he crafts his epic poems. He’s depicted as self-centered, with an utter lack of regard for the role of the women who fostered the war, supported their families throughout and suffered tremendously during the war and in its aftermath. The reader can picture Calliope grinding her teeth, but she is steadfast because she has a petty motive to see the epics finished.
Haynes creates vivid images of the famous characters, such as Helen of Troy, whose beauty and manner melt her admirers. The reader becomes immersed in the grit and dirt of war as the former royal Trojan women become the slaves of the Greek warriors. The images bring this tale to life in a new, refreshing and poignant way.