Audiobook Review: A Thousand Ships

Published January 26th 2021

Author: Nathalie Haynes

Narrator: Natalie Haynes

Audiobook Length: 8 hours 33 minutes

In A Thousand Ships, broadcaster and classicist Natalie Haynes retells the story of the Trojan War from an all-female perspective.

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

In the middle of the night, Creusa wakes to find her beloved Troy engulfed in flames. Ten seemingly endless years of brutal conflict between the Greeks and the Trojans are over, and the Greeks are victorious. Over the next few hours, the only life she has ever known will turn to ash . . .

The devastating consequences of the fall of Troy stretch from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida, from the citadel of Troy to the distant Greek islands, and across oceans and sky in between. These are the stories of the women embroiled in that legendary war and its terrible aftermath, as well as the feud and the fatal decisions that started it all…

Powerfully told from an all-female perspective, A Thousand Ships gives voices to the women, girls and goddesses who, for so long, have been silent.

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Greek mythology retellings have appealed to me for a long time. While The Iliad and The Odyssey have been done multiple times, I was still curious to see how this take would play out in A Thousand Ships. In this novel, the author tells multiple stories of the women who went through the Trojan War and the aftermath. Some of the stories told are mortals, while others are immortals, like nymphs, muses, and goddesses. There are many characters to track in this story, but it helps that some are more well-known that others. Some women only have a single chapter, while others have multiple. This made it difficult to fully connect to some of the stories as they were over almost as soon as they began. The timeline of the story not only covers events surrounding the Trojan War, but also goes back to the time of Gaia and Zeus.

The story begins with the muse of poetry Calliope as the narrator before it transitions into the other perspectives. There is the Judgement of Paris with Athena, Aphrodite, and Hera along with Eris, the goddess of strife, and how she plays into the story. For the mortals, there are some more well-known and some that are not told as often. Oenone, is an unfamiliar one to me, where she was set in her beliefs even when faced with betrayals, and another unfamiliar one was Laodamia, who is suffering from the loss of her husband. There are two slightly more well-known women who were captured by the Greeks, Chyseis, who was the daughter of a priest of Apollo and taken by Agamemnon and Briseis, who was taken by Achilles for Patroclus. One very well-known individual is Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, who grows frustrated more as time moves forward when he does not return home. There is also the Queen of the fallen Troy, Hecabe, and her daughters, the omniscient Cassandra and Polyxena. Hecabe’s story is not only about emotions, but also of her actions, including revenge for the death of her son. These do not even cover all the perspectives in this story, so this type of style may not be for everyone. For me, I enjoyed the idea, but I felt that some of the POVs could have been deleted in favor of expanding some of the others. While the single chapter stories were interesting, it was too difficult to connect with them.

Along with the shifting focus from character to character, the timeline is not chronological as it bounces back and forth in time. This was difficult to follow initially, although this could be just an audiobook issue compared to the writing, it did begin to come together eventually. The story itself reads similarly to Stephen Fry’s Great Mythology series where there are multiple short stories that come together under a central point in history/mythology. It is a unique concept for these stories to be told by Calliope to an unknown storyteller, who will go on, potentially, to retell all the tales.  I was not expecting this vast array of tales when I began the novel, so I think that affected my feelings on it. I thought it would be more continuous with a narrower focus on characters, so it was a surprise to have a wide variety. It was not a huge negative, but it just was not expected and potentially something other readers should consider. Overall, this was a nice collection of stories that typically do not get told and I enjoyed learning about each of them.

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