Book Review | Ariadne (ARC)

I received a digital advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Ariadne by Jennifer Saint. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.

In Ariadne, we meet the titular character, who grows up in Crete in her father King Minos’s household. She has to deal with the birth of the Minotaur, her half-brother, and then watch helplessly as he is imprisoned. Several years later, when the hero Theseus arrives from Athens, she sees a way to escape her father’s sometimes cruel rule and make her own life. However, her decision leads her down a different path than she expected, one of isolation and heartbreak, gods and monsters.

Even if you know the story of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur, this book still is enjoyable. Unlike the original version, this brings to the forefront women’s struggles, women’s perspectives, and women’s strengths in a story so often dominated by the deeds and words of men. Greek mythology is such a masculine world, with tales of Achilles and Odysseus, Heracles and Zeus. The women who appear are so often portrayed in such negative ways. Circe and her wicked magic. Pasiphae and her twisted desires. This book asks what if there were another way of seeing the women of myth?

And overall, I liked Ariadne as a protagonist, as well as the scenes from her sister Phaedra’s point of view. Ariadne is rather naive at the beginning, but also sees the injustices that happen around her, even if she feels helpless to fix them. Her growing understanding that the world she lives in isn’t there to benefit her, but to benefit men, is well written. As a character, I thought she was decently well rounded and had an engaging narrative voice.

The only other character I liked was Phaedra, as I mentioned, though she was a little more cynical and fierce than her sister. She is impulsive, which makes for some frustrating moments, but overall, I was rooting for her (even though I knew the mythology). As for the other characters, who are almost all men, I didn’t really like them. I wasn’t supposed to in some cases, but still.

As for the romance, it had its ups and downs. I really enjoyed it at its beginning, but that enjoyment soured over time until when things started to fall apart, I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t want them to be together, so the end of the book didn’t hold as much emotional impact for me as perhaps it should have.

Speaking of the end of the book, I found it disappointing. Maybe that was the point, but I don’t really understand it. This is a rather feminist take on Greek mythology, allowing the women of the stories a chance to speak and give their side, but I prefer the feminist stories that also empower. This didn’t really leave me feeling empowered, just sort of feeling like “wow, I’m glad I’m not an ancient Greek wife of a deity.” Also, Saint did not end it the way I thought it would end, in line with the version of the myth that I know. You know, the more powerful, empowering, moving one. So that was pretty lame.

In the end, I did mostly enjoy Ariadne. Strong writing, a pretty compelling if not very action-packed narrative, and some good moments of sisterhood and women seeking to have agency in their own lives. The romance and the end were just major let-downs for me.

Overall rating: 7.9/10

Content warning: There are some moments of violence (though not overly explicit in their descriptions), as well as an instance of a character committing suicide—which, being Greek mythology isn’t that unprecedented, but still, it’s there, and I wanted to let people know in case they’re considering reading this.

Ariadne will be published on May 4th, 2021!

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