A THOUSAND SHIPS - by Natalie Haynes

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Published: May 2019 - Mantle.
Genres: Adult / historical / mythology / retelling.    
Pages: 352.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Sexual innuendos / gory descriptions / rape.  
Format: Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Pan Macmillan SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I voluntarily read & reviewed this copy. All thoughts are my own.

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…

Haynes has written an incredible story following the experiences of women affected by the Trojan war. Her writing is poetic, profound, incisive and witty, and it's obvious she has meticulously researched this period in time.
Initially, I admit I was a bit bored. There isn't a lot of dialogue or white space, and the chucks of paragraph after paragraph are heavy. However, once I got to "meet" the main female characters and dive into their stories, I was hooked. So although it might be slow at first, if you stick with it long enough to get into the world and the characters, you should find it fascinating.

The plot structure is unusual. It's rather episodic, jumping from one woman or a group of women every chapter, but it smoothes out after a while and Haynes does return to each woman's story every few chapters. I love how she explores the war from all different angles and examines the lives and experiences of women on all sides of the conflict. We get to see the goddesses, the princesses, the queens, the wives and daughters and slaves, and as a result there's a diverse and varied range of perspectives to take in. I loved that.

     Men's deaths are epic, women's deaths are tragic: is that it? He has misunderstood the very nature of conflict. Epic is countless tragedies, woven together. Heroes don't become heroes without carnage, and carnage has both causes and consequences. And those don't begin and end on a battlefield. 

    It does hurt, I whispered. It should hurt. She isn't a footnote, she's a person. And she - all the Trojan women - should be memorialised as much as any other person. 

  But this is a women's war, just as much as it is the men's, and the poet will look upon their pain - the pain of the women who have always been relegated to the edges of the story, victims of men, survivors of men, slaves of men - and he will tell it, or he will tell nothing at all. They have waited long enough for their turn.

It's a big cast (lots of complicated names!), and since the story is constantly hopping around to the different groups or individuals affected by the war, it's not always easy to know who everyone is. Especially in the beginning, each chapter revolves around a different woman or group of women.
But after a few chapters, we get to learn the main cast, and we keep coming back to them to continue their stories. The backstory of every woman is so well fleshed out and layered, and even if you don't remember everything once you move on to the next chapter, you feel as if you know the woman when you're in her chapter. Each chapter is extremely in-depth. Every female character is fully realised and with a history, backstory, motivations, and pain. We're truly immersed in these women's lives.

Of all the different perspectives, I found Cassandra's story the most powerful. Her journey is heartbreaking, but I got a strong sense of her character and where she was coming from, which made her a compelling heroine to follow. The author herself admits "although her story was sometimes hard to tell, I have missed her the most since I finished writing." It's true - Cassandra is just one of many women who were raped and abused and mentally unstable during this horrific period of history, but I love that thanks to Haynes, her story is finally being told.

A Thousand Ships is a richly detailed and fiercely feminist account of the Trojan war from the perspectives of the previously unheard women caught in its violence.   

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