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?
I have to admit to being a little nervous when I picked up Ariadne. Jennifer Saint’s much vaunted debut has been spoken about with ALL OF THE PRAISE by book bloggers, booktubers, and booksellers and has been compared to Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles and Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls. High praise indeed but, for me, I always get nervous that maybe I just won’t ‘get’ the book that everyone is talking about, or that the hype will mean I enter a book with unrealistic expectations.
Fortunately, I need not have been concerned about Ariadne. It is as compulsively readable and compellingly affective as everyone has been saying and I now find myself in the position of adding yet another voice to the vase torrent of bookish love for this Jennifer Saint’s brilliant debut.
Following in the footsteps of Miller, Barker, and, perhaps most relevantly, Natalie Haynes, Ariadne is a feminist literary retelling of Greek mythology that places Ariadne, Princess of Crete, firmly back into the centre of her story. Beginning with her childhood on Crete, we feel her pain and anger as the whims of gods and men result in her beloved mother’s shame and madness, and follow her as she encounters the Athenian hero Theseus and helps him escape his fate – or possibly, to fulfil his destiny – within the depths of her father’s labyrinth.
Ariadne is a smart, intelligent narrator of her story, combining a naiveté that wishes to see the good in everyone with an awareness that she inhabits a world where women – even strong, courageous, intelligent women – suffer because of the capriciousness of both men and gods. Bought to life in lyrical prose, Ariadne’s world is enthralling combination of the mythological and the human and her life – and that of her beloved sister Phaedra – is equally affected by both the divine games being played upon Olympus and the more petty machinations of kings and city-states.
Although Ariadne is probably best known for her role in Theseus’s story, the novel whips through this part of her life with relative speed, moving to focus upon the woman Ariadne becomes as a result of her encounter with Theseus. I won’t spoil the story for anyone unfamiliar with the myth but it’s definitely fair to say that Ariadne’s tale only BEGINS with Theseus – and that her famous encounter with him is far from the most interesting part of her story.
Whilst I enjoyed re-treading the more famous aspects of the myth, for me Ariadne really came alive once the novel entered the less familiar territory of her marriage. As the book developed, I really enjoyed seeing the different threads of Ariadne’s life being woven together into a compelling – and emotionally affecting – ending that places Ariadne firmly back at the centre of her own story, even when the control of her fate is being wrested from her by petulant gods and treacherous men alike.
Beautifully written whilst remaining accessible for those less familiar with classical mythology, Ariadne continues a fine recent tradition of recent myth re-tellings that consider the supressed and forgotten voices that lie behind many of the ‘great’ deeds of bravery and heroics that form the heart of such stories.
As a lover of all things myth and legend, Ariadne was always going to be right up my street. But with its accessible style and focus upon the all-too-familiar challenges that a young women encounters when forging her own path in life, I think it’s an immensely relatable novel that speaks to problems we still face today. In Ariadne, Jennifer Saint has created a heroine with a humanity that provides an emotional compulsion to her tale despite its temperamental gods and mystical monsters – and that makes this a novel that is sure to appeal to any lover of a good story and not just to myth aficionados.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley UK for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me onto this blog tour. The tour continues until 12 May 2021 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.
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