Review: Ariadne - Jennifer Saint
Genre: Literary Fiction, Mythology Retelling Published: April 29th 2021 by Wildfire My Rating: 4.5/5 stars
I’m a simply girl: I see a Greek myth retelling: I add it to TBR.
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.
With Ariadne, Jennifer Saint gives voice to the titular princess of Crete, known mostly as a side character in the story of Theseus and the Minotaur, placing her at the centre of her own story for once. The concept has been trialled and tested in Circe, The Silence of the Girls and A Thousand Ships, but Ariadne’s story is one that lends itself perfectly to the same treatment, as even in her original story she’s a female character with a lot of agency. As the brains behind Theseus heroic rescue operation, Ariadne dares to spin the threads of her own faith and stand strong and tall in a world ruled by man, Gods and monsters.
I didn’t immediately fall in love with this novel the way I wanted to. We start with a lot of setting up the scene, and for someone who’s already very familiar with original myth, it all felt a bit redundant and info-dumpy. During this same set up, there was some fairly heavy handed priming towards the clear feminist message that the book carries throughout, and I honestly was afraid that it would take too much of an aggressive approach to this.
However, once the story got going, my hesitation and reserves went out the window. With stunning prose, Saint brings these characters (male, female, gods and beasts) to life in a way that I’ve only ever seen done in Circe. Not only Ariadne, but her sister Phaedra and many other forgotten women from these myths are brought to life in nuanced, complex and emotionally profound ways that will hit home to many of us, even centuries later.
If, like me, you loved Circe and haven’t had quite enough of this style of myth-retelling that focusses more on character than story: this is one you can’t miss. It is “the next Circe”, but it’s also entirely its own. It’s contemporary, but also timeless. It’s a tragedy, but an absolutely joyous experience. Highly recommend!
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