A thousand ships by Natalie Haynes

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The story of the Trojan Wars told from the perspective of the women, is mesmerising. All the gods are there meddling in the affairs of the Greeks and Trojans with caprice and malevolence.

The story begins with Creusa waking in the middle fo the night to flames as Troy is sacked and burnt, its inhabitants slaughtered, the ploy of the Trojan horse successful. We hear of the Greek invasion through her eyes as she runs thorough the night trying, unsuccessfully, to find an escape route, but appalled by the sights she sees, the smoke and fire, the marauding soldiers and the fearful Trojans. It is a stunning introduction to the Trojan Wars, and we are in the thick of it as Troy falls, seeing the panic of the women.

From here we are taken across the seas to Greece and the decisions made with powerful consequences as Helen is brought back to Troy by Menelaus. Ten years of war ensues the Greeks occupying the beaches in front of the city, laying siege.

The muse Calliope narrates numerous stories from the perspective of the women involved in the Trojan War. She is speaking to a male who appears to be writing down some of the stories, and in between her tellings we hear from others: Cassandra, Hecuba, Andromeda amongst many as they try to survive the bloodshed. Goddesses and muses also get a voice in this wonderful story. The women in the main are victims of the gods and the male decision makers. But their stories are enticing, we know that their end will be bloody but are taken in with the background of the women, and how they coped with the intervention of the gods. We hear very little about Helen of Troy or the wars themselves, the horse, the killing of Hector, the voyages of Odysseus, the role of the decisions makers, but we hear of them in passing as they affect women’s lives. The men form a background, albeit decisive, to the women whose stories we hear.

So we see Penelope waiting the long ten years for the return of her husband, Odysseus. She has heard from poems and stories that the war has finished and expects his return but the stories also tell of his adventures in the seas between Ithaca and Troy where his voyage is interrupted by the capricious gods. She hears of his dalliance with women along the way, and talks of the pressure of the suitors eating her out of house and home as they try to win her over, but faithful Penelope keeps them at bay.

We are taken into the palace of Troy where the women watch the killing of Hector, his body dragged behind Achille’s chariot around the city, the women devastated watching from the walls. We hear of the three muses squabbling over a golden apple, and hear of their interference in lives for their own amusement.

All the intoxicating myths are there but told from a different perspective revitalise them, adding another layer of interest to an already thrilling saga.

I listened to an audio version read by the author, Natalie Haynes.

Themes: Trojan Wars, Greek myths, Odyssey, Women.

Fran Knight