The best books set in the Trojan War

The Books I Picked & Why

Helen of Troy

By Margaret George

Book cover of Helen of Troy

Why this book?

Margaret George is a preeminent writer of historical fiction—big, authoritative novels focusing on remarkable, famous people, as her 2006 Helen of Troy demonstrates. She covers Helen’s life from girlhood through the Trojan War and back to Sparta. She builds a full depiction of ancient Greek life, which always makes me happy, but George is most compelling with her characters. George’s interpretations often break with tradition, and that is true for Helen and Paris. Helen disdains her extraordinary beauty and must grow into visionary insights and outsized passions with guidance from the gods. If you want a genuinely heroic Paris (not his usual wimpiness) and a couple who cleave to each other to the end, this is the Helen book for you. George’s skill holds your attention through it all.

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Helen of Sparta

By Amalia Carosella

Book cover of Helen of Sparta

Why this book?

Carosella offers another, refreshing take on Helen. This Helen takes control of her life and tries to defy fate (and the gods do their darndest, as usual in Greek mythology, to make her and everyone else miserable). Carosella’s engaging novel develops the characters’ jealousies, passions, and loyalties, as well as bringing the reader directly into the ancient Greek world. I enjoyed the sense of interconnectedness between different parts of this Greek and Mediterranean world, Troy, Sparta, Egypt, Mycenae, and Athens. This accurately reflects the current understanding of this exotic world. I appreciate a flexible view of all the legendary mythology surrounding this iconic war, and Carosella has flexed some impressive muscle.

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The Song of Achilles

By Madeline Miller

Book cover of The Song of Achilles

Why this book?

Miller’s Trojan War take focuses on the exclusive and all-encompassing love between Achilles and Patroclus. She magnificently achieves her goal of showing how Achilles could suffer the extremity of grief that Homer portrays in the Iliad. The beauty and mythological feel of Miller’s writing put this on my “best” list. I am also intrigued by the role played in her plot by a flaw she gives to immortals, especially to Achilles’ mother—an inability to understand love in a genuine way.

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A Song of War

By Christian Cameron, Libbie Hawker, Vicky Alvear Shecter

Book cover of A Song of War

Why this book?

If a racially diverse, gender-bending, often raunchy, always nuanced, new take on an old tale sounds like a good read to you, then pick up this “novel-in-parts.” Both the racial and sexual fullness reflect historical reality, although they’ve ordinarily been left out. Retelling the Trojan War from its early causes to its tragic but still hope-infused end, the authors gave this rendition a compelling depth that will make you savor the old tradition with some new spice on your tongue.

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A Thousand Ships

By Natalie Haynes

Book cover of A Thousand Ships

Why this book?

Haynes’ novel is the most distinctly “feminist” on my list, an approach I find innately compelling. Rather than restoring a voice to one woman in-depth (as I did with Briseis), hers is “the story of all of them.” How does Haynes pull this off? One way is via a dark, dry humor – unexpected but deeply engaging. Another is her speedy deftness as she depicts the emotional resonance of each woman’s specific circumstances. Haynes honors their wildly differing voices and experiences within the larger backdrop of the Trojan War. As readers we care about each of them—magic!

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