Atalanta by Jennifer Saint
Published by Flatiron Books
Publication date: May 9, 2023
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
How much Greek mythology is too much? Apparently, there is no limit so far. I loved Jennifer Saint’s last novel, Elektra, so knew I wanted to read her latest, Atalanta. Especially because this is a character about whom I know nothing, except she’s a Greek princess who is the only woman to sail with Jason as an Argonaut on his quest for the golden fleece.
Atalanta’s father has no use for a daughter and so leaves Atalanta to her fate as an infant in the wild. Instead, she is found and reared for a time by a bear. It’s only when she’s a young girl that she’s discovered by the goddess Artemis and taken to live with her tribe of nymphs, all of whom have pledged their lives her service as women eschewing men and living Artemis’s sacred forest. For many years this is life enough for Atalanta as soon she is almost as swift and skilled a hunter as the goddess herself.
When Artemis learns that the kings of Greece and the gods are sending their sons to aid a mortal named Jason on an impossible quest, she decides that she’ll send Atalanta in her honor. That Atalanta will be the only woman is of no concern as she knows her to be faster, stronger, and cleverer than any man. For herself, Atalanta is excited to leave the forests and see the world of men. There is only one caveat: If she marries it will be her undoing.
While Atalanta is a retelling of classic Greek mythology Saint’s examination of the original plot changes the narrative in significant ways. It’s expected the Argonauts will battle monsters and overcome extraordinary dangers. Even Atalanta is primed, having killed two centaurs on her own, a feat thought to be impossible for a human. Instead, there is the reality of life on a ship sailing across the sea into unknown lands. It’s hours of rowing, hunting for food when land is available, and mostly, squabbling and boredom.
This comes together in a novel that moves beyond the easy realm of wicked men being defeated by heroes. Instead, a young woman gifted with the speed of a goddess finds herself pitted against people who refuse to acknowledge her greatness. All in the midst of a quest that relies on deceit and trickery, not the battles of strength and valor the Argonauts had been promised. It’s so human, petty, and small that it offends Atalanta and her desire to gain glory for Artemis.
As is the case with much of Greek mythology there’s no happy ending, but by unpacking this story from the mortal perspective Saint breathes new life into a tale gone stale. Atalanta is a hero and an Argonaut (despite her name being scrubbed from certain ancient texts) and Atalanta is a rewarding retelling of her life.
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*I received a free copy of this book from Flatiron Books in exchange for an honest review.*