Myths and Monsters · Review

Review: Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

If you’ve been here a while, you’ll know I’m a sucker for a good mythological retelling, and I loved this book. The story of Theseus and the Minotaur (Asterion) never sat right with me, and who didn’t think Theseus’ behavior toward Ariadne was…less than honorable? Ok, it was crap, and her story was a blip in the overall hero’s tale, so I was excited to read a retelling from her point of view. A “herstory”.

Jennifer Saint did not disappoint. She covers all of the details of the Labyrinth and Minotaur tale (as well as the prerequisite tales of Pasiphe and the bull and King Minos’s successful subjugation of Athens) all from his oldest daughter’s point of view. Saint delves into the psychological aftermath of a woman who (through no action of her own, but in vengeance for something her husband had done) forced to birth a bull’s monster baby (and why Pasiphe survived), and how that broke her mind, which in turn removed her from the family structure and left Ariadne essentially on her own to face the shame and whispers in the kingdom.

It’s no surprise, between the Minotaur and her father’s cruelty to his own family, his kingdom, and his Athenian prisoners, that Ariadne is ready to get out. I think it’s safe to comment on how Theseus never would’ve beaten the Minotaur in the first place without her help: she knew the Labyrinth and had a plan for Theseus to escape. She went against her father (and her own kingdom) to help him end the cycle of abuse. And his actions afterward are as abhorrent in this book as they were the first time I read the story.

The rest of the book, which follows Ariadne through the remainder of her life, is wonderfully written. Ariadne is a fully fleshed out human with complexities and her own needs and desires. Instead of the quick follow up comment we get in the myths, which is often a single line commenting on who she marries as though that’s the end of her tale, Ariadne in Saint’s retelling has an entire inner and outer life with all the triumphs and failings of any heroine’s journey.

Jennifer Saint is excellent at turning the lens of a hero’s myth to a female point of view, and fills in so many of the gaps left open in the original story. I loved Ariadne. I can’t wait to pick up Elektra, another story in which the original female character is nothing but a prop for a “hero’s” success or tragic failure, with no real voice of her own. Saint is adept at giving strong, complicated voices to the women in Greek myth, and I look forward to the next one.

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