Ariadne: a mythological retelling
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Genre: Fantasy (retelling)
Published March 2021, 308 pages
“I had been a fool to trust in a hero: a man who could only love the mighty echo of his own name throughout the centuries.”
I don't know my Greek mythology at all - just the main gods like Zeus and Aphrodite, Apollo, etc. But I can never keep straight who is married to whom or who anyone's parents are. And yet I keep picking up these retellings about gods I don't know. Then, I keep enjoying them! Most recently that includes books like Circe and The Song of Achilles , both of which I found SO good.
I found this comprehensive chart (which is pretty small type, I know) on Wikipedia under Family Tree of the Greek Gods and found it really helpful. This is part of the chart and just shows from the Titans (in green) and the bold names are the 12 accepted Mt Olympus Gods. If you want an easier to read version, check it out on Wikipedia.
“I would not let a man who knew the value of nothing make me doubt the value of myself.”
As a debut book, this is extraordinary - Ariadne has a great tone of bygone eras and yet is contemporary in nature. I think the writing is a great blend of the more formal writing of some classic novels, yet it doesn't get mired down in the flowery, complex sentence structures. It's the best of both worlds - old and new!
A PLOT RECAP
It's the story of Ariadne, a daughter of King Minos of Crete and sister to the monstrous Minotaur. Side characters are her mother, Pasiphae, who has gone mad after the birth of the creature Minotaur, and her younger sister Phaedra. There are two main male characters: Prince (eventually king) Theseus and the God Dionysus. Secondary males (and a storyline that is actually familiar to me) is the lauded inventer/carver Daedalus and his son Icarus.
This story does not focus on the story of the Minotaur - which is good because I already knew that one. It focuses on the women around him - his mom and sisters. Eighteen year old Ariadne (what a hard name to type - it does NOT flow off the fingers!!) falls in love with the handsome, dashing young prince Theseus when he comes to Crete to kill the Minotaur. In her youthful passion she helps set up the death of her brother and betrays her father.
When she escapes Crete with Theseus, she leaves her younger sister behind. The turns the story takes because of that event prove to be disastrous for both sisters. Her life takes an unexpected turn after she is abandoned on an island and discovered by the god Dionysus. While the story follows Ariadne, it also keeps track of her sister's life and how she becomes the very unhappy Queen of Athens. This retelling does focus on the sisters and how each manages to find her own very different strength through many trials and tribulations.
“I had hit upon a truth of womanhood: however blameless a life we led, the passions and the greed of men could bring us to ruin, and there was nothing we could do.”
In case you're like me, and unfamiliar with the story of Ariadne, I don't want to give away the ending, but it wasn't what I expected - a bit on the tragic side.
The book is sort of billed as a feminist version of the story, but as you can see from the quote above, this might be a bit of an overstatement. It's certainly no feminist treatise. However, there are so many redeeming qualities to this story. Each of the sisters continually strives to break free of the hold men have over their lives. They make some bad choices along the way, but that's what people do and I feel adds a touch of realism to a fantasy story.
I feel like there are some thoughtful moments representing how many women think about our place in a community, about avoiding things we don't want to see, about motherhood, and more. Love, passion, loss, betrayal, opposing views of motherhood. I enjoyed rooting for Ariadne, felt sad for Phaedra, was disgusted with Theseus, and charmed by Dionysus. I guess Saint did her job! Overall, so very well done and definitely recommended.
Do you have a favorite retelling to share? I'd love a recommendation on the next one I should read!