Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Published by Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 4, 2021
If you’re a fan of Greek mythology than 2021 is shaping up to be a great year. First there was A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes (which I loved) and now there’s Ariadne, the story of a Cretan princess whose half-brother is the fearsome Minotaur. The Minotaur’s life and death are a mainstay of Greek mythology, but author Jennifer Saint pushes the beast and Theseus, the prince who slays him, to the side to delve into the life of not only Ariadne, but her sister Phaedra. Two young women, whose fates may have been determined by the gods, but who both found ways, for better or worse, to create their own lives.
A dutiful daughter, Ariadne is in charge of the yearly sacrifice of young men and women to the Minotaur. A man with the head and hooves of a bull he lives in a labyrinth underneath the palace. When she is 18 Theseus, the prince of Athens, is one of the sacrifices. She falls in love with him and he promises to marry her and take her to Athens if she can save him. She does, they escape, and he promptly betrays her, abandoning her on the deserted island of Naxos. It isn’t until she is close to death that the island’s owner, the god Dionysus, appears and saves her. From there, with no knowledge of the outside world she creates a new life.
As Ariadne’s life moves on so does that of Phaedra. Five years younger than Ariadne she’d been enthralled by Theseus as well. But with his actions and their country’s greatest weapon dead, Crete’s balance of power shifts and with it, Phaedra’s options. She’s not as demure as her sister and so grabs what she wants, regardless of the consequences.
Whether or not you know anything about the wily Greeks and their capricious gods, Ariadne is wonderfully entertaining reading. Saint wastes little time with the deeds of ‘legends’ who slayed monsters and conquered other lands, instead highlighting how they often succeeded thanks to the help of maidens like Ariadne. Who they then turned on for not exhibiting enough piety and filial duty to their fathers—a kind of circular logic that almost always ended with dead women.
Thankfully, in this case they survive for Saint to tell their story. This is not a case of rewriting mythological history, but of an author taking the whispers in existing texts and turning them into voices. There’s no raising the women to the perfection of gods, especially as the Greek deities, both male and female, were vengeful, petulant children. In Ariadne, Saint translates ancient lives into a scintillating novel with all the best themes—love, jealousy, pride, and betrayal.
This post contains affiliate links which means if you click on a link and make a purchase, I get a small commission (at no cost to you).
*I received a free copy of this book from Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.*