History is pliant. It’s not all hard facts but fact putty that gets spun into a narrative by the victors. Even more pliant is (the actually fictional) stuff like classical mythology. For thousands of years, poets and bards, playwrights and writers have been spinning and re-spinning the Greek myths of gods, heroes, and monsters for our entertainment… and kind of to our detriment (well, detriment if you aren’t a straight, white dude). Because those who’ve primarily told the tales (as with history, it’s always important to note who does the telling) were (straight, white) men, the narrative’s gotten skewed. Poseidon’s been chiefly cast as the hero — he was not. Whereas the women (like Medusa) have received (first abuse and then) a bad reputation. It’s why I’m so excited about books like Madeline Miller’s Circe and Song of Achilles. It’s why the release of Ariadne made my heart soar. They are books that challenge the way we’ve been taught to think and change the narrative.
We’ve all heard of the Minotaur (probably). Half beast. Half man. He lived on Crete. To be exact, he was imprisoned on Crete in a subterranean labyrinth without daylight (designed by none other than master inventor Daedalus; of Ikarus fame). Once a year, he got to hunt and snack on fourteen Athenian boys and girls in an Ancient times kind of Hunger Games. The Minotaur’s dad (not bio dad, but dad for all intents and purposes) was the king of Crete who had successfully subdued Athens. To keep the peace, Athens had to send 14 of its children (like tributes) to be fodder for the Minotaur’s bloodlust. Handsome (and full-of-himself) Theseus (Athens’ prince) was not on board with that kind of subjugation and also not the death (possibly). So he came along for one of those yearly offerings and made googly eyes at Ariadne (daughter of the king of Crete). Ariadne didn’t need much persuading to help Theseus escape the labyrinth, rescue the tributes, and kill the Minotaur (technically, her half-brother) because she was sick of all the death and abuse at her father’s hand. Anyway, I’m going to stop here. Because spoilers.
Ariadne lends a fresh voice to the women in one of Greek mythology’s most well-known stories. Told in alternating chapters from the perspective of Ariadne and her younger sister Phaedra, this classical mythology retelling focuses on the betrayal the sisters experience at the hands of the men in their lives. At its core, Ariadne is a story about betrayal. Because, to golden boys like Theseus, who always claim to but never do all their own hero-work, the presence of a woman in their hero narrative is not only an inconvenience, but a threat.
Saint’s debut offers a beautiful and heartrending exploration of the classic.
Publication Date: March 30th 2021
Jonathan Ball Publishers kindly sent me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion, rating, or the content of my review.