“Ariadne” by Jennifer Saint

Thanks to Headline and NetGalley for the Advance Review Copy in exchange for an honest review.

I always thought that if I were to write a book, it would be about Ariadne. She is quite possibly my favourite female character from Greek Mythology so when I saw this book announced I was incredibly excited.

The book is titled Ariadne but covers the points of view of both Ariadne and Phaedra, both during their time in Crete and the events which occur after they leave the island. It’s all here, Theseus and the Minotaur, Ariadne’s abandonment, her meeting with Dionysus and Phaedra’s infatuation with Hippolytus.

I thought Ariadne’s conflicting feelings for her bovine brother were handled really effectively, and the small glimpses we get of Pasiphae’s maternal yearning were genuinely touching.  Theseus was also portrayed perfectly, he’s the faithless, callous dope that we all expect him to be. The portrayal of the general events of the story were also well interpreted with some of the gaps filled in in interesting ways, particular Phaedra’s side of the story which helped to reframe her character in a more interesting way. Ariadne’s characterisation however felt a little weak to me. I suppose the image I have in my head is that of the clever, cunning woman from myth, I just didn’t get that sense of her in this story.

What I was most looking forward to was Ariadne’s relationship with Dionysus. I suppose I was imagining a slow burn romance that would eventually help to heal the sting of Theseus’s betrayal. What we got instead was a rather staid instalove situation which felt really disappointing to me.  When you have the chance to write a passionate relationship between a mortal and a god, but instead portray almost instantaneous shacking up and living  in humdrum domesticity…well it seems like a wasted opportunity to portray an epic romance.

I was also slightly confused by Ariadne’s condemnation of Phaedra’s infatuation with Hippolytus. I couldn’t understand why she was so getting so antsy about Phaedra having the hots for her non blood relation stepson when she was literally married to her half…uncle? The ending felt a bit rushed too.

Perhaps this book tried to do too much. It might have been more enjoyable to read one story rather than both, although Phaedra’s was probably the most interesting overall. I was also slightly bemused by the emphasis on Ariadne and Phaedra’s blondness and the fairness of their skin. Yes, I know blonde Greek people exist, my grandmother was one, but it’s certainly not the norm for Cretans and the repeated mentioning of it seemed a bit weird and incongruous. It’s a small thing I know, but my mental Ariadne is definitely a brunette, as shown in ancient representations of her and representations of women from Knossos. I wasn’t expecting another version of Renault’s The King Must Die but perhaps a little more influence from real historical contexts might have felt more natural.

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