Book Review: ARIADNE by Jennifer Saint

A mesmerizing retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur — perfect for fans of Circe, A Song of Achilles, and The Silence of the Girls

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?

My Review:

I was excited to pick up Ariadne as — like many my love of Greek mythology started as a kid when I read Percy Jackson — I’m a big fan of Greek myth retellings. I read and enjoyed both Circe and The Silence of the Girls, and Ariadne was comped to both of those which peaked my interest.

I did have a bit of a slow start getting into Ariadne — I think because of the rather formal feel of the first-person narration — but once I got into the second half I couldn’t put it down. The first half of the story is the tale (minor spoilers if you have no familiarity with the myth of the Minotaur) I was familiar with: Ariadne assists Theseus with the Minotaur, and after she helps him, he abandons her. I thought the way Saint narrated this all was so interesting and I love that we get to see Ariadne’s point of view of these events. Ariadne is so wrapped up in Theseus and his heroic deeds and stories, only to be utterly mistreated and abandoned by him once he no longer has use for her. This moment changes Ariadne’s whole world and shatters her trust in men, and being inside her head was an adventure to be sure.

“The bridges were burned behind me, and I could not make my way back across the ashes any more than I could walk on the trail of moonlight cast across the water.”

Theseus’s mistreatment of Ariadne is far from the only example in this book of the way men used women and discarded them as soon as they’d served their purpose. Throughout the entire book this is a major theme; the book chronicles the many different ways women are used and abused as tools and playthings for powerful men (and powerful gods). Saint brought in many examples of women from myths as well, even if they weren’t characters we met in the book — such as Scylla and Medusa — and that really contributed to the commentary. So often, in Greek myths and in life, women pay the price for situations they had no agency in and Saint highlights that so effectively through Ariadne and how she perceives these events in her world.

The second half of the novel was unchartered territory for me, as I wasn’t as familiar with the myth after Ariadne is abandoned on Naxos by Theseus. I won’t say much about what happens, but at about this time we also get Phaedra’s (Aridane’s sister) point of view as well, and the parallel stories of the sisters was an added depth I really appreciated. There’s further commentary about the role of women and how they “serve a purpose,” specifically through the gaze of motherhood. I thought it was super intriguing; the examination of motherhood was limited without examining queer + trans/gender non-conforming parenthood, but I still did find the storylines really impactful. Phaedra and Ariadne experience and interact with motherhood/children in very different ways, but neither experience is invalidated and I really appreciated reading their challenges and growth as they navigated ruling and raising families while still trying to retain control and agency over their lives.

“I know the dizzying joys of humanity: the fragile, ferocious power of human love and the savage force of grief…I have felt the gaping wound and the bruised, ragged edges of grief. I know that human life shines more brightly because it is but a shimmering candle against an eternity of darkness, and it can be extinguished with the faintest breeze.”

The third act of the book has a growing sense of tension as you hurtle towards the ending and an impending sense of doom; I had to know what was going to happen even when I felt more and more apprehensive. I think this brewing tension was done so well, and made the ending all the more impactful. The third act also brings the powers and politics of the gods into the picture more, which I really enjoyed.

Ariadne centers the women of the Greek myths and their stories, and provides thoughtful and poignant examinations of Greek myths and their portrayal of women and erasure of their agency, along with a vulnerable exploration of motherhood, family, and power structures. The pacing was slow at times, and I wish there’d been more space for incorporating queerness and race into the portrayal of women and those whose stories are overwritten by the epic “heroes” and gods who care so little for the people they crush in pursuit of power, fame, and fortune. However, I still really enjoyed Ariadne and think it’s a refreshing retelling that’s entertaining and meaningful.

My Rating: 3.5 Stars

Comparison Books: The Song of Achilles, Circe, The Silence of the Girls

Jennifer Saint grew up reading Greek mythology and was always drawn to the untold stories hidden within the myths. After thirteen years as a high school English teacher, she wrote ARIADNE, which tells the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur from the perspective of Ariadne – the woman who made it happen. Jennifer Saint is now a full-time author, living in Yorkshire, England, with her husband and two children.

Get your copy of Ariadne here:

*Thank you to Flatiron books for providing me with an arc in exchange for a free and honest review 🙂

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