Book Review – Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

Expected publication date, 29th April 2021 (I know. Get me)

⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Probably closer to three and a half. There really should be a half-star emoji.

The story follows Ariadne and her sister, Phaedra, as they grow up in the Cretan court as princesses of the island. Their brother is the Minotaur, Asterion.

Kept in the labyrinth, the Minotaur is the half-man, half-bull consequence of a trick played on their mother Pasiphae by Poseidon. Every year, the Cretan court requires a tribute consisting of seven boys and seven girls of Athens, who will be left in the labyrinth, where Asterion will hunt and kill them. But when Theseus, young prince and mighty warrior of Athens, caught up in his own legend and rather fond of himself, comes to Crete as a tribute, he plans not only to slay the Minotaur, but to marry Ariadne. But the course of true love never did run smooth and Theseus is too self-obsessed to fall in love.

Now, I really enjoyed the exploration of Greek mythology. I’ve always loved those stories but have struggled over the years to keep the narrative straight in my mind because, no sooner do I remember someone’s name, they’ve turned into a swan or a statue, maybe they’ve been seduced by a god who can turn themselves into cutlery or a passing storm, and if there is a lesson to be learnt, it’s pretty much, don’t mess with Hera, and Zeus would like to know if you have plans for dinner.

All that being the case, I was pleasantly surprised that, in Ms Saint’s telling, I actually was able to follow the story of the Minos sisters. And it’s well-written. The characters are diverse and compelling and I really enjoyed getting to know them.

However, the book is billed as “The brilliant feminist debut that everyone is talking about.” I don’t disagree with most of that epithet, but it’s not feminist. At least, not to me.

To me, feminism is about equality. It’s about raising women up, not bringing men down. My understanding is pretty simplistic, I’ll concede, but imagine my disappointment when I realised that this ‘feminist’ story covered: weak and self-involved men, capricious and dandified male gods, women who were supposed to be powerful but were either traded like cattle, insane or bent on blood vengeance, and not a whisper of equality. Frankly, an ending where the men have learnt nothing and the women are dead seems inevitable, and perhaps, it was naive of me to hope for a story of respect in an ancient time.

It has, however, reminded me of the stories of Ancient Greece that I loved, and got mixed up, when I was younger. Being older now, I fully intend to reread and understand them. If at all possible.