‘My story would not be one of death and suffering and sacrifice, I would take my place in the songs that would be sung about Theseus; the princess who saved him and ended the monstrosity that blighted Crete,’
As Princesses of Crete and daughters of the fearsome King Minos, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra grow up hearing the hoofbeats and bellows of the Minotaur echo from the Labyrinth beneath the palace. The Minotaur – Minos’s greatest shame and Ariadne’s brother – demands blood every year.
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When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the beast, Ariadne falls in love with him. But helping Theseus kill the monster means betraying her family and country, and Ariadne knows only too well that in a world ruled by mercurial gods – drawing their attention can cost you everything.
In a world where women are nothing more than the pawns of powerful men, will Ariadne’s decision to betray Crete for Theseus ensure her happy ending? Or will she find herself sacrificed for her lover’s ambition?
Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of one of the most famous Greek myths, and speaks to their strength in the face of angry, petulant Gods. Beautifully written and completely immersive, this is an exceptional debut novel.
If you are a fan of classical Greek mythology, you will love this retelling of the story of Ariadne and her sister Phaedra. One version of the original story goes something like this:
“One year, when the fourteen young people of Athens were about to be sent to Crete in sacrifice, Theseus, son of King Aegeus of Athens, volunteered to be sent in order to kill the Minotaur and end the sacrifices for good. When they arrived in Crete, Ariadne fell in love with Theseus and decided to help him in his quest. She gave him a sword to fight the Minotaur, as well as a ball of thread; she advised him to tie one end near the entrance of the labyrinth and let the thread unroll as he delves deeper into the twisting and branching paths. When Theseus found the Minotaur, he managed to slay him, and then followed the thread back to the entrance, where Ariadne was waiting.”
In this version, after killing the Minotaur with a club, Theseus takes Ariadne to the deserted island of Naxos, and having first taken her virtue, he abandons her with a week’s supply of food and continues to Athens. Eventually, he marries her sister Phaedra, telling her that Ariadne is dead. But this book goes into far more detail about the other events that took place and the relationships that ensued. Ariadne does not stick to the traditional tale and you will need to suspend disbelief (though these are myths so that probably does not apply) as the author has exercised her wonderful artistic licence a lot here.
However, what this book is really about is the concept of sisterhood. The Gods are portrayed as mean and nasty and they frequently punish the wives for the sins of their husbands, or the children for the sins of their fathers. The Goddess Hera, for instance, rather than be part of the sisterhood, never punishes her husband Zeus for his many misdemeanours, she punishes his mistresses and his bastard offspring.
As I’ve already said, the Gods were cruel and this story, written for a modern audience, does not shy away from the violence against women, rape, ritual sacrifice, women being made to birth monsters and other atrocities. Much of it is extremely unpleasant and certainly anyone who has watched films like Clash of the Titans or Jason and the Argonauts will find this non-sanitised version of the myths rather more distasteful. It is, however, beautifully written, with fabulous descriptions of the places like Crete, Athens and Naxos, and also the suffering of the women involved. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
(PS I’d love to see how this would pan out if it kept to the myth, but took place nowadays. I guess the Gods would be celebrities, everyone would have a mobile phone to call for help, Theseus would go into the maze with an AR15 and Ariadne would never starve as she could always get a delivery from Ocado. But the concept of sisterhood would still remain.)
Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours.
About the Author
Due to a lifelong fascination with Ancient Greek mythology, Jennifer Saint read Classical Studies at King’s College, London. She spent the next thirteen years as an English teacher, sharing a love of literature and creative writing with her students. ARIADNE is her first novel and she is working on another retelling of ancient myth for her second.
Jennifer Saint on her inspiration for the novel:
The inspiration for Ariadne first sparked when I was at university and studied the Roman poet Ovid for the first time. When I read the Heroides, a collection of letters written by the women of myth to the men who had wronged them in various ways, I was captivated by seeing these familiar stories from a different perspective.
Ariadne writes a powerful letter to Theseus after she has given him the clue to lead him safely from the Labyrinth, lair of the Minotaur, betraying her father and kingdom to do so. Her younger sister Phaedra writes a letter of her own, full of clever rhetoric and persuasion and we see that they are intelligent and passionate women trying to carve out their own destiny in a world where the odds are stacked against them. Years later, I would read my children the Greek myths I had always loved and I was reminded of Ovid when I came to the story of the Minotaur in which Ariadne’s crucial role was reduced to a couple of sentences in the background of Theseus’ legend. I felt that Ariadne deserved her own voice and I wanted to put her in the spotlight where she belongs.
Although Phaedra had her own individual story, I also wanted to explore the relationship between the sisters and how growing up in the shadow of the Minotaur shaped their experiences. I felt that the myths I had encountered about Ariadne and Phaedra were focused on the men in their lives and I wanted to make their sisterhood central in my book. The richness and complexity of female relationships, especially that of sisters, is so interesting and the two sisters of the Minotaur, whose fates were so devastatingly interlinked, offered such a compelling story that I was really excited by the idea of telling it.