Women in War

Natalie Hynes brings a compelling new perspective to the Iliad

The story of the Trojan war has been told and retold thousands of times since it was written in 762 B.C. However, most of these retellings have a notable flaw: they exclusively tell the stories of the men who fought in the war. This has the effect of limiting the perspective through which we see the legend. However, A Thousand Ships by Natalie Hynes changes up the tale. It is told exclusively through the perspectives of the women who are overlooked, yet important, in the story. The book begins with the muse Calliope, who narrates in first person and acts as a voice of reason, and switches perspectives each chapter. In this book, the ill-fated noblewomen of Troy, such as Queen Hecuba and the priestess Cassandra, get their time in the spotlight. So do Briseis and Iphigenia, the women kidnapped by the Greeks. Even Penelope, Odysseus’ wife who waits 20 years for him to return home, is featured. 

Besides Hynes’ compelling character and plot building, the book serves as an important contrast to most Iliad retellings, due to its female focus. A Thousand Ships proves that even though women aren’t the center of the Iliad, their stories are just as captivating as those of their husbands, sons, and fathers. It is fast moving and hard to put down, and readers will be mesmerized by the trials and tribulations of the characters. 

One aspect of the book that detracts from the rest of it is Penelope’s chapters. In these sections, she recounts what she has heard of her husband’s journeys. These chapters felt illogical, as it seems unlikely that her bard has full knowledge of Odysseus’ faraway exploits. Additionally, reading those chapters feels like Odysseus is taking the spotlight rather than Penelope, when her story is just as compelling.

However, A Thousand Ships is overall an exciting and necessary novel that introduces lesser known perspectives into the world of Greek mythology. 


Warning: the book deals with the intense oppression that women faced, so readers should be careful to check warnings before starting it.