Excerpt from Ariadne by Jennifer Saint, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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by Jennifer Saint

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint X
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
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    May 2021, 320 pages

    Apr 2022, 320 pages


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I am Ariadne, princess of Crete, though my story takes us a long way from the rocky shores of my home. My father, Minos, liked to tell me that story of how his unimpeachable moral conduct won him Megara, the subservience of Athens, and the chance to set a shining example of his impeccable judgment.

Stories told that, at the moment of her drowning, Scylla was transformed into a seabird. Far from giving her escape from her cruel fate, she was immediately set upon in an endless chase by the crimson-streaked eagle bent upon eternal vengeance. I could well believe the truth of it, for the gods did enjoy a prolonged spectacle of pain.

But when I thought of Scylla, I thought of the foolish and all-too-human girl, gasping for breath amid the froth of waves churning in the wake of my father's boat. I saw her weighed down in the tumultuous water not just by the iron chains in which my father had bound her but also by the terrible truth that she had sacrificed everything she knew for a love as ephemeral and transient as the rainbows that glimmered through the sea spray.

My father's bloody travails were not limited to Scylla or Nisus, I know. He exacted a terrible price for peace from Athens. Zeus, the all-powerful and ferocious ruler of the gods, enjoyed strength in mortals and granted his favored Minos the boon of a terrible plague that rolled across Athens in a storm of disease, agony, death, and grief. The wails must have filled the air as mothers watched their children sicken and die before their eyes, soldiers slumped across the battlefields, and the mighty city—which found that it was, like all cities, made strong only by weak, human flesh—began to sink beneath the piled-up corpses of the plague my father had brought. They had no choice but to accede to his demands.

It wasn't wealth or power that Minos sought from Athens, however. It was a tribute—seven Athenian youths and seven Athenian maidens brought every year across the waves to Crete to sate the appetite of the monstrosity that had threatened to shatter my family with shame but instead had elevated us to the status of legends. The creature whose bellows would make the floors of our palace rumble and shake as the time grew near for his annual feeding, despite his burial far below the ground in the center of a twilight labyrinth so dizzying that no one who entered could ever find their way back to daylight again.

A labyrinth to which only I held the key.

A labyrinth that housed what was at once Minos' greatest humiliation and greatest asset.

My brother, the Minotaur.

* * *

As a child, the twists and turns of the palace at Knossos were endlessly fascinating to me. I would loop through the bewildering multitude of rooms, skating my palm across the smooth red walls as I drifted through snaking passageways. My fingers traced the outline of the labrys—the double-headed ax engraved into stone after stone. Later I learned that to Minos the labrys represented the power of Zeus, used to summon the thunder—a mighty display of dominance. To me, running through the maze of my home, it looked like a butterfly. And it was the butterfly I would imagine as I emerged from the dim cocoon of the palace interior to the glorious expanse of the sun-drenched courtyard. At the center gleamed a huge, polished circle, and this was where I spent the happiest hours of my youth. Spinning and weaving a dizzying dance, creating an invisible tapestry with my feet across the dancing-floor: a miracle carved from wood, a superb accomplishment of the renowned craftsman Daedalus. Though, of course, it would not be his most famous creation.

I'd watched him construct the dancing-floor; I was an eager girl, hovering over him, impatient for it to be done, not appreciating that I was watching an inventor at work whose fame would ring through the whole of Greece. Perhaps even the world beyond, though I knew little of that—indeed, I knew little of what lay beyond our palace walls. Although many years have passed since then, when I remember Daedalus, I see a young man full of energy and the fire of creativity. While I watched him work, he told me how he had learned his craft traveling from place to place until his extraordinary skill attracted the eye of my father, who made it worth his while to stay in one place. Daedalus had been everywhere, it seemed to me, and I hung on his every word when he described the scorching sandy deserts of Egypt and the impossibly distant kingdoms of Illyria and Nubia. I could watch the ships sail from Cretan shores, their masts and sails built under Daedalus' skilled supervision, but I could only imagine what it felt like to cross the ocean on one and feel the boards creaking beneath my feet while the waves hissed and crashed against the sides.

Excerpted from Ariadne by Jennifer Saint. Copyright © 2021 by Jennifer Saint. Excerpted by permission of Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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