Ariadne by Jennifer Saint is a retelling of the epic of Theseus and the Minotaur but from the perspective of the two princesses of Crete, Ariadne mostly but also her younger sister Phaedra. In case you haven’t brush up on your mythological studies, Ariadne was the one who helped Theseus escape the labyrinth with the help of golden thread.
Ariadne does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of the original story while adding a fresh perspective and new angle. It is rather disturbing how female characters are often handwaved away in the original myths, even when, especially in Ariadne’s case, the hero only triumphed thanks to them.
Come to think of it, Greek mythology retellings giving voices to the silenced female characters seems to be a trend at the moment. Not that I am complaining, I am currently obsessed with these retellings.
I liked how we got to see both Ariadne and Phaedra’s perspective and how they grow into two very different women starting from their separation. While Ariadne is our lead, Phaedra’s insight is invaluable for world-building and prevents the story from being a bit one-note.
This is a tale of love in all forms, betrayal and tragedy. Needless to say, it is a rather passionate read. As a self-described scholar of Greek mythology, I knew more or less what twists and turns were awaiting me but it did not lessen the emotional blow.
Another element I loved about this book was the way Jennifer Saint portrayed these legendary figures. Saint did her homework as while she nailed the basic parts, she also fleshed them out perfectly, making them fully realised characters. Not only for our protagonist but also for the gods too. Letting us hear some of the stories from their perspective was a genius move on Saint’s part.
I don’t want to spoil anything for those who don’t know the myth and want to read Ariadne blind, but my favourite god plays an important role in this story. This version of him might just be my favourite take on him from any modern author. She even highlighted my favourite parts of his personality.
One of my favourite things about these retellings is seeing how different authors portray the same character. Namely the characters of Pasiphae and King Minos. They feature in both Ariadne and Circe by Madeline Miller and while they both authors hit more or less the same plot points, their personalities are wildly different. Pasiphae in particular is almost unrecognisable in Ariadne compared to her Circe counterpart.
Ariadne is a wonderful retelling. It is written masterfully in a way that is both accessible for those who don’t know much about Greek myths as well as those who have spent a bit too much time researching the lore. Guess which camp I fall into.
I loved this book. It hit all the right boxes for me. So far it is easily my favourite book I’ve read that was published this year. My heart broke a few times while reading, so you know it’s good.