Over the last few years, there has been a wonderful influx of stunning historical fiction, with many books focusing on ancient history. Even better, many of these novels have been written with a feminist power behind them, focusing in on the difficulties faced by women; the stereotypes and restraints impacting the characters of legend to force them into molds until they are unrecognizable are being shattered. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes is one such book.
Covering the stories of many women impacted by the battle of Troy, the book spans the lives of women from queens to slaves, goddesses to servants. Withe vengeance, rage, pity and murderous intent, they tell the stories that we simply have not been told. Because surely, the glory of Odysseus is enough…
I have always been fascinated by Greek literature, and was captivated by The Odyssey at a young age. We have already established that I was a ‘unique’ child. Yet even then, I remember it feeling very much like the boys on the playground having too much of a rough and tumble at times. The mythological side of it was the closest we got to dealing with women properly, and even then, wasn’t Odysseus really just seeing how far he could really push it? Evidently, I haven’t been the only woman or girl to ever wonder: where the hell are the women and girls?
This book is beautiful, furious, fast paced, and doesn’t hold back. There is no hesitation in the punches that Haynes pulls, and there is something so liberating in this. After years and years of healing about Glorious Odysseus, it is as if every woman is reaching through time itself to scream, “what about me?”.
There has always been just a bit too much praise for a man who helped raze a city then sailed around avoiding going to his wife for the next decade as far as I’m concerned. Him aside, the whole routine of conquering armies taking prizes for themselves from the women of the city is repulsive, no matter how much of a tradition it was. Young women and girls, and old queens, turned into slave for sex and scrubbing floors. It’s just quite distasteful. And all the time these stories are being told, there has never been any challenge to how the women actually felt. It’s never even mentioned. A man’s bruised ego over a woman turning away from him – if she wasn’t outright kidnapped – led to the deaths of men and the ruining of women’s lives, which is all the more hard hitting now it’s considered historically accurate that Troy actually existed.
Now a comment that I wouldn’t normally make, but think is needed. A Thousand Ships has been on my wish list for a long time, and, in complete honesty, I have hesitated because of the price. Many books come down in price after the immediate sales period, and I normally have to wait for then; I am, in a word, poor, and as much as I resent it, finances sometimes stand in the way of books. That is a statement made with full regret, I must say. So, after hesitating buying this book because of the price staying the same, then using a gift voucher I won to buy it, I will say hand on heart that I never never met a book worth paying full price for as much as this one. It will be reread, and loved, and passed on, and stay on my bookshelf always. And if, like me, you are in a similar position price ways, the paperback version is due out the beginning of May this year!
Natalie Haynes has shown huge amounts of skill and passion in her delivery for the voices of women needed, everywhere and every day. I doesn’t matter the date, it doesn’t matter the legend, it matters the lives changed, then silenced, then forgotten. Haynes breathes life back into them, and returns their names to existence.