book review

Review: Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

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Rating: 1 out of 5.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

I love the idea of Greek retellings – especially Greek retellings that aim to give the overlooked women in the stories voices. However, this book really didn’t hit the mark for me, and I think the issue is that the author really didn’t give these overlooked women very much to say or do.

Ariadne follows Ariadne and her sister, Phaedra, Princess of Crete, daughters of Minos. After winning a battle against Athens, Minos takes 14 Athenian youths every year and feeds them to the Minotaur, who lives in a labyrinth under his palace. One year, Prince Theseus of Athens is among those selected to enter the labyrinth. Disgusted with her father’s actions, Ariadne helps Theseus, giving him the knowledge he needs to defeat the Minotaur. However, Theseus then betrays Ariadne, leaving her on an island on the way back to Athens.

Now, that about sums up any real plot in this book, and that happens within the first three chapters or so. From here, instead of inserting Ariadne and Phaedra into the story, giving them character development, choice and agency, the author keeps them as bit players, observing events that happen around them. This is partially, I think, to highlight how women were mistreated at the hands and for the whims of men – but it doesn’t really work in a first-person narrative. It means that the book is boring, and any events that happen are only explained to the characters through pages and pages of other characters describing it to them. This method of storytelling became really wearing really quickly.

I also found the character development shallow, and in this case I think the author was really limited by the Greek myths she was adapting. One moment Theseus is telling Ariadne he loves her and asking her to marry him – the next he is deserting her on the island – and nothing happens in between. We’re never given a good explanation for this, and I think it’s just because it has to happen because that’s what happens in the original. Throughout the novel, this became a problem, with inconsistent, changeable and shallow characterisation adapting with how the story had to go – rather than the story being powered by the characters.

I found this book difficult to get through, and almost put it down a number of times. I pressed on, and I thought the last chapter (pre-epilogue) was probably the strongest part of the story – but this made it all the more frustrating because it wasn’t properly built to at all.

Perhaps some people will get on better with this book – I’ve seen a lot of better ratings – but I don’t think it works particularly well either as a retelling or as a novel in its own right.

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