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.
I got a copy of this beautiful book from my wonderful Squadpod friends as part of my birthday present, and I’ve been reluctantly saving it for a gap between ARCs. In the end, I couldn’t resist, and although my TBR pile is teetering, I treated myself to what I knew would be a guaranteed top read. I am a total Greek geek – I studied Ancient Greek at A-level and did a module at university (I’m not a true classicist as I gave up Latin much earlier – for me the stories weren’t as good!) and I once attended a two-week Ancient Greek summer camp, for which I endured much cruel mockery from my dear siblings. Anyway, what I am trying to say is that I LOVE the Greek myths, and Ancient Greek literature is my spiritual home, so I knew I was going to love Ariadne.
The style of this novel was absolutely bang on for me. It felt, at times, like reading a really beautifully rendered translation of an ancient text, complete with epithets and similes I recognised and delighted in. Rosy dawn makes a few appearances, and although the wine-dark sea mentioned here is more literal than metaphorical, it still felt like a nod to the classics. I loved the language, the way it approaches poetry at times, and then brings you back down to earth with a bump. It falls somewhere between a stylised and a naturalistic mode, and I really think Saint has found the sweet spot that allows her text to feel authentic while also exploring the voices of those who are usually forgotten in the myths.
Ariadne and Phaedra are presented both as products of their culture and as much more than society regards them as – the insights we get through their first person narratives reveal complex, rounded, imperfect individuals who are subject to the same weaknesses as any human, and yet, as the gods really do exist in this world, they each contain a spark of something more – the inheritance they have received from the sun-god who sired their mother. I am always curious how the divine is going to be handled in classical retellings, and I have to say, I absolutely love it when it is just an accepted, literal fact that the Olympians exist. AND my favourite god of all, Dionysus, has a really important role in this book, so that for me was the icing on my geeky Greek cake!
I love how heavily the book leans into the myths and stories, how it doesn’t seek to explain them from a modern perspective, but instead utterly immerses the reader in that ancient, mythical world. And yet we do get a peek behind the curtain – we see the way in which Theseus constructs the legend of his own heroism, how a seemingly all-powerful ruler like Minos is in fact clinging on by (excuse the pun) a thread. We see gods shaken and disturbed by the acts of men, we see queens struggling with motherhood, we see monsters nursed and pitied. The disruption of the traditional mythic mode is subtle, but it is there, and it’s so clever.
Safe to say, I absolutely adored this book, and I am beyond excited that in her next novel, Jennifer Saint will be focusing on Elektra, one of my all-time favourite characters. Enough geeking out from me – read Ariadne, it is wonderful.
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint is published by WIldfire Books and is available to purchase here.