2022 Reading Review: “Ariadne”

A book about a woman with a message many can relate to.

Ariadne, written by Jennifer Saint, is the retelling of the Greek myth of the titular Ariadne. She’s known for aiding Theseus in his defeat of the fabled minotaur. And honestly, that’s all I really knew of her tale. I had a mini-infatuation with Greek mythology as a kid, but only in knowing some of the basics. So, Ariadne is a name I’d heard (and admired; definitely a name I would’ve adopted). But, in fact, I really only knew Ariadne from her place in the minotaur myth. Beyond that, I don’t know if there are more tales about her. But Saint’s book does expand on this story and focuses on Ariadne, her sister Phaedra, and the plights of women in Ancient Greece.

Because of that, as a woman, it’s very relatable. It was easy to connect with the characters. Falling into the story and setting was smooth and enjoyable. And it was a simple read, in that it wasn’t overly complex; I could just enjoy the experience and the world.

So, let’s chat about a few more details. Warning: potential spoilers ahead. I will keep them light, but beware they may be there.

Story

As you may have guessed, Ariadne follows a young woman named Ariadne, starting in her time living as a princess in Crete. She has an overbearing and tyrannical father in Minos, who rules through fear and overt-power. In a history that Ariadne weaves for us, we learn how the minotaur came to be and how Minos using it to display his strength even more.

But all this changes when a young prince of Athens—Theseus—is sent along to be a sacrifice to this minotaur. Ariadne, and her younger sister, Phaedra, are infatuated with this prince and are eager to help him escape, even at the risk of their father’s rage.

This is where the story begins, but it is certainly not where it ends. In fact, this is only the first part of tale—and there’s so much more to uncover than just this piece of Ariadne’s life.

Characters

Does it warrant saying the name of our main character again? Especially when it’s the title of the novel?

Well, obviously, Ariadne is our main protagonist—and I find her to be an enjoyable one. I liked reading the story of her and her life experiences. I enjoyed her version of the story from her perspective. Admittedly, there were a few moments where I felt drawn out of the world. But for the most part, having most of this story told from her view was effective.

Phaedra becomes a significant figure in the tale as well. This was not something I expected at the start of the book; she seemed like she might be relegated to the background. But her role in this story is important. And as her story went on, I began to like her as a character more. She’s relatable. Very human. And while she’s a formidable female, you can also empathize with her a lot.

Theseus: another figure we see often throughout the book. For a good part of the book, I just spent my time being annoyed at Theseus—and for good reason. As the hero of the original, we want to like him—for who doesn’t love a hero? But, as we often find out, sometimes the heroes aren’t actually what they seem.

While there are several other great characters, I don’t want to drop any spoilers here. My opinion section may mention more, but these ones are our biggest drivers.

Writing

Saint’s writing is smooth and easy-to-follow. As I said above, it was a simple read. The wording and tone wasn’t overly complex and I followed the story well.

And yet there were still times where I sank into the language. There were occasional slow-reveals that made me feel like I was there, along with the characters. I had to fight myself not to read ahead and just be there with the characters as these reveal caught them, too. I have a vivid memory of this in a scene towards the end of the book—which I won’t spoil.

Moreover, there were repeating themes shown throughout the story. This is especially true for the idea of women constantly having to pay the price of the wrongdoings of men. The message is hinted at and demonstrated throughout the novel, but just enough so you could see the connection. I don’t feel that it was over-the-top.

And, honestly, as a woman, it was a message I liked reading about. I connected with it. Women so often were left out of these ancient myths and great tales, were side characters against the men, or were punished in some way. This theme fits well with the book and I felt it helped make these female characters more seen, in a sense.

Will You Like This?

Are you into the Greek myth retellings? E.g., have you enjoyed books like The Song of Achilles and Circe by Madeline Miller?
Do you like that setting—Ancient Greece, the Mediterranean, and the heat that comes with it?
What’s your opinions on, not just the trials of mankind, but the means and ends of gods and goddesses?

If you enjoy these things, then, yes, I think you will also enjoy Ariadne. I like that we’re seeing retellings of these ancient myths. In some ways, it helps us relive that history that maybe we struggle to read; I haven’t read a full book on the translations of these myths, though I’m interested in them.

Plus, these retellings are often giving us new perspectives on different characters within these tales. Often, they’re told from points-of-view that the original story neglected or deemed the villain.

Opinion (Spoilers)

I’m iffy on remakes of films, but I like when stories add something new. The retellings that we’re seeing come up bring us back to stories we know and tell us another character’s perspective. And this is a great thing, considering we’re living in a time where people are interested in knowing the other side of the story.

Okay, last warning: I’m going to spoil some things below. If you don’t want them, turn around now and come back when you’ve read Ariadne.

Issues

There were occasions where I felt taken out of the story. E.g., when Theseus is telling Ariadne his life story and Phaedra interrupts until eventually he continues. That moment felt a bit like an information dump. At the time, I didn’t particularly like Phaedra’s character, so her forcing herself in felt annoying.

But that’s just me—and admittedly, it’s not fair to criticize. We needed Theseus’ back story. The readers need to know this character. Having it described as a conversation works better than pages of just text. In a conversation, we can hear Theseus’ own vision of himself and his tale. So, it is effective in that. It just happened to be one of the scenes that didn’t resonate with me, personally, but it did not take away from my enjoyment of the book.

Other than that one scene, I don’t think I had any other true issues with the story or writing. I might get frustrated with some of the characters and their responses to things, but that just shows how relatable the characters are.

Praises

Saint’s tale expands on the minotaur myth and, I assume, takes some liberties with her story. Again, my knowledge on Greek mythology is basic, so I’m not certain if time is dedicated to Ariadne on Naxos or Phaedra as the Queen of Athens. With the descriptions of ancient Greece’s treatment and views of women, I imagine Ariadne’s tale would’ve ended with her abandoned or punished for the role she played in betraying her father.

But that’s why I’m liking these retellings. Stories that we thought we knew remind that there is always another side—and perhaps the person we thought was the hero really isn’t. I love that we’re seeing the Medusa tale told in another light now: of the priestess who’d been wronged by a god and was punished for such. I feel the same about the love between Hades and Persephone: once, he’d stolen away, but now we ask if maybe she went of her own free will because she loved him. We know little of Patroclus from the Greek myths, but now we have his love story we can cherish.

That’s what retellings are doing and seeing that other side often produces empathy, which the world desperately needs more of.

The end of Ariadne: I was both enamored with and expectant of it. I didn’t want her story to end the way it did, but how could it be any other way? After so many words reminded me how women throughout history often bore the brunt of ill decisions of men, we could not be surprised when it occurred again.

It was a wonderful journey and I’m glad I got to be part of it.

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