Author: Jennifer Saint
Published: May 4th, 2021 (Flatiron Books)
Synopsis: As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.
When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.
In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?
Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.
Princess Ariadne of Crete is the daughter of the feared King Minos and has grown up hearing the roars of the Minotaur, her brother, in the Labyrinth beneath the palace. Year after year, young men and women from Athens arrive to be sacrificed to the beast, and Ariadne and her sister Phaedra can only watch in horror, powerless to stop the atrocity. When Theseus, Prince of Athens presents himself as one of the tributes one year, Ariadne feels drawn to help him in a hope that he might be able to end this terror. But having seen how her own mother suffered the wrath of the gods for a wrongdoing that her father committed, what punishment might Ariadne have to endure for betraying her family and helping Theseus?
Mythology retellings, particularly Greek ones, are something I can never pass up. Theseus’ defeat of the Minotaur is a famous one, and probably familiar to even those not particularly into Greek mythology. But the other side of that story, of the Princess without whose help this feat would not have been possible, is one rarely heard and she is little more than a side character who receives none of the glory in this grand tale. There are a couple of variations as to what becomes of Ariadne after she escapes Crete with Theseus, each a sad one in some way, so I was curious to see which path this book would take. This book very effectively portrays and gives voice to the women who are rarely heard from in these tales, and were seen only as pawns in the greater games of men.
One very good thing about this retelling is that it requires practically no knowledge of the original myth and it covers everything a reader might need to understand the story. I liked that the story was told from both Ariadne’s and Phaedra’s perspectives as it provided a much more holistic view of the events to the reader. Additionally, there are times when Ariadne’s side of things slowed down and Phaedra’s much more exciting life in Athens kept things interesting. Seeing the sisters’ lives before this turning point in their lives, growing up in Crete under the shadow of this scandal on their family, their very different attitudes towards their monstrous brother and their shared terror of their father were all a side of things that I’d seen for the first time in relation to this myth and I really appreciated that the author took the time to build up the background for this story. Theseus’ less heroic side is not often shown, so while the events were familiar to me, it was fascinating to see a more negative portrayal of the demigod.
While the writing itself was great, I can’t say the same for the narration style. The story was quite choppy on Ariadne’s side as it just seemed to jump from incident to incident, only picking up a stronger, more contiguous storyline right far too late into the story that leads into the final chapters. It also tended to deviate into other myths, albeit related ones, but it causes the reader to lose the thread of the main story which was rather annoying. But the real reason I gave this 3.5 stars and not 4 is simply because this book didn’t bring anything new to Ariadne’s story. The last couple of chapters also felt pretty rushed and I believe that the book could have benefited from slowing down a little and perhaps a few more chapters.
Overall, while there were a few aspects of this book I didn’t like, they were all related to presentation and not the story itself. I would say that this was a very good read, especially considering that this is the author’s debut novel. Ariadne’s story is a rather tragic one, and the author did a wonderful job of showing how little agency women had over their own lives in those times, and how nearly every misfortune she suffers is a result of the manipulations and egos of men. I would definitely recommend Ariadne for fans of Greek mythology, particularly if you enjoy retellings from a female perspective like Madeline Miller’s Circe or Natalie Haynes’ A Thousand Ships.
Have you read this book? Let me know in the comments below!