Ariadne is the daughter of King Minos of Crete and the sister of the dreaded Minotaur. Every year, Athens sends fourteen young men and women as a sacrifice to the Minotaur, and Ariadne looks away, unable to bear her part in these atrocities. Then Theseus, the prince of Athens, arrives as a sacrifice. She is so swayed by his virtue, honour, and handsome face, that she betrays her father to end the murders. But will her own sacrifice, the loss of her home and family, lead to a happy ever after, or will Theseus forget her in pursuit of his own fame and fortune?
This is a Greek mythology retelling that shifts the focus away from Theseus and his heroic exploits to become King of Athens. Instead, we explore the way women are treated by men and gods alike. They are tools for men to use and discard when their purpose is served and as a form of punishment when men go against the gods.
Ariadne cannot escape this truth, her mother is punished for her father’s greed, and the result is the Minotaur. The story is told predominantly from Ariadne’s point of view, her highs and lows, her acceptance of her position, as well as her attempts to change her fate. We are drawn in from the start as Ariadne is a caring character who loves to dance, and the action starts with her helping birth the Minotaur. She doesn’t see a monster; she sees a baby with calf eyes and soft fur. How can we not share her tenderness of this moment and later her grief for what her brother will become?
We also see some events from Phaedra, Ariadne’s sister, who acts as a foil to her sister. While Ariadne is cautious and wants a quiet life, Phaedra learns to influence men, so she has some authority. If you are unfamiliar with the story, I don’t want to spoil anything for you. So, instead of going into great detail, I will say that Phaedra is usually cast as a villain. But Saint explores her motivations, creating a more complex, sympathetic, believable character.
As this is a retelling and not a reimagining, the ending doesn’t change, making for a bittersweet ending. I both couldn’t put Ariadne down as much as I wanted to avoid finishing it. Jennifer Saint does an incredible job of developing character; we understand why the sisters behave the way they do. We sympathise with them in their different worlds, doing the best they can to survive in a male-dominated world. This brings tension to the ending because it won’t change the outcome, however much we might want it.
My only complaint is the ending felt rushed compared to the rest of the story. The world-building at the start is strong and luscious, creating the golden world of wealth and privilege in which Ariadne grows up. This doesn’t continue with the final showdown, which has rumbled in the background for a good portion of the book.
That complaint didn’t stop my enjoyment of Ariadne in all its beautiful, bittersweet glory. With a touch of romance and a strong feminist slant, Ariadne is perfect for fans of Greek mythology looking for a fresh take on their favourite tales.