The BookBrowse Review

Published June 9, 2021

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Book Jacket

by Jennifer Saint
4 May 2021
320 pages
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
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A mesmerizing debut novel for fans of Madeline Miller's Circe.

Ariadne, Princess of Crete, grows up greeting the dawn from her beautiful dancing floor and listening to her nursemaid's stories of gods and heroes. But beneath her golden palace echo the ever-present hoofbeats of her brother, the Minotaur, a monster who demands blood sacrifice every year.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives to vanquish the beast, Ariadne sees in his green eyes not a threat but an escape. Defying the gods, betraying her family and country, and risking everything for love, Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. But will Ariadne's decision ensure her happy ending? And what of Phaedra, the beloved younger sister she leaves behind?

Hypnotic, propulsive, and utterly transporting, Jennifer Saint's Ariadne forges a new epic, outside the traditional narratives of heroism and glory that leave no room for women.

Here are some of the recent comments posted about Ariadne.
You can read the full discussion here, and please do participate if you wish.
Be aware that this discussion will contain spoilers!

Ariadne realizes that there is a darker side to the stories of gods and men. Discuss some examples from the novel that bear this out. Is there still a tendency in our culture to valorize men while ignoring women's pain? (8 responses)

Ariadne realizes early that it is a man's world and even more a God's world and that their actions were done to make then feel better about themselves and have the power and control that they desire and too often being cruel was just something to do for them. Adiadne ... - beverlyj

Ariadne reflects that the ritual gave shape to the Maenads grief and anger. Does this explanation make sense to you? Can you think of rituals or activities in our culture today that might fill a similar role? Does that justify them? (10 responses)

I definitely agree that the ritual with Dionysus gave shape to the Maenads grief and anger. Our rituals today also do that. Every funeral gives shape to our grief. Christian church services are the result of grief as well as exultation that occurred over 2000 years ago. I can't speak to the... - BuffaloGirl

Ariadne says of her sons, "They have gone on to lead quiet, unremarkable lives—the greatest gift that they could have been given." What does she mean? (11 responses)

I agree with much which has already been written. None of the men in the story would be considered role models with the possible exception of Daedalus. Private, quiet lives would be the best she could wish for her own sons - patriciag

Compare and contrast the different examples of romantic love in this book. Which was the truest love story, if any? (10 responses)

Honestly, I saw no true romantic love in the book, except perhaps Ariadne's love for Dionysus before their relationship cracked, because of his actions, beyond repair. Ariadne's and Phaedra's initially and individually loved Theseus is that adolescent blind way, ... - BuffaloGirl

Daedalus seems to be one of the few admirable male characters in this novel. How is he different from the other men and gods we encounter? What role does he play in the story? Can we trust the sisters' positive account of him? (8 responses)

Daedalus was an honorable man trapped in a horrible situation because of his talent and through no fault of his own. He and Ariadne's and Phaedra's nurse provided some stability and adult attention that the girls would not otherwise have had, given their mother's mental breakdown and... - BuffaloGirl

Discuss the different experiences of motherhood we see in the novel, including Pasiphae's relationship with her children. (10 responses)

Pasiphae was a loving and good mother until she was used by Minos and Poseidon in their feud. Even after the birth of Asterion, she was a nurturing and loving mother to him. But his birth drove her mad. Ariadne was a good and loving mother because she had the example of Pasiphae... - BuffaloGirl

Discuss the role of Medusa. From the story that Ariadne's handmaiden tells her as a girl, to Ariadne's final encounter with the head of Medusa, how do the themes in Medusa's story parallel Ariadne's? (6 responses)

Until this question, I did not think about how Medusa's story could be a parallel Ariadne's. But as stated above - I can see how they were both used by men (as I guess women could expect during this time) - beverlyj

Do you feel any sympathy for Dionysus' actions? Does he change over the course of the novel, or does Ariadne simply see him for who he truly is? (14 responses)

Thank you to "acstrine" for providing further background information on Dionysus. The information regarding his status as god of fertility of nature definitely adds a layer to his character. I didn't feel sympathy for Dionysus. His hubris overcame his reason and ... - BuffaloGirl

Does Dionysus' indictment of the gods ring true to you? Do you think Dionysus himself is different, especially in his relationship with Ariadne and their sons? (7 responses)

The quote was one of my favorite lines in the book and helped to endear Dionysus to me. Often times he seemed human or at least he seems to understand how humans and Gods operate and while like all Gods he had his weak spots and does seem to like the advantages he has as a God. I ... - beverlyj

How can retellings of classic stories change or expand our view of the original? What are some of your favorite retellings? (13 responses)

@Elizabeth Marie, agree about Wicked. Gregory Maguire has made a career out of retelling classics - celiaarnaud

How much agency and responsibility do you think Ariadne and Phaedra have over their choices, and how much are they manipulated by the gods and Fates? (12 responses)

I do not think that Adriadne and Phaedra did not have much agency over the choices they made. They had to figure out a way on how to make the best of what Fate and Gods did to them. Their responsibility seems to be how the can make the best of any the situations they found themselves in and be aware... - beverlyj

Overall, what do you think of Ariadne? (no spoilers in this thread, please) (24 responses)

This was an okay read for me. I wanted a more feminist view in this retelling and thought the author followed more closely to the more classical model but did enjoying hearing the story from a more women's point of view. The first half of the book - I was rooting for Phaedra ... - beverlyj

Unlike Ariadne, Phaedra doesn't remember a time before the Minotaur. How do the sisters' different childhoods change their outlooks on life and impact their personalities? (10 responses)

Phaedra seemed emotionally stunted; her emotional growth stopped when her mother was used as a pawn by Minos and Poseidon and essentially had a mental break. Ariadne seemed much more emotionally mature; kind, caring, loving, thinking of others needs, etc - BuffaloGirl

Were you more drawn to Ariadne's or Phaedra's chapters? Why do you think the author chose to include both of their perspectives? (10 responses)

I enjoyed Ariadne and her chapters more. It would be easy to be her friend. Phaedra's chapters seemed much darker and I think it was be more draining to befriend her, although Phaedra definitely was more in need of a friend. and She was so alone at the end and I felt sad about that - BuffaloGirl

What tone does the novel's epigraph set for the story to come? (7 responses)

It seems to me that Ariadne is well aware that in addition to Theseus being a braggart and having no moral base, that her society does not value women. All humans require recognition of their efforts and Ariadne knows that it will not be afforded to her if left up to Theseus - BuffaloGirl

What were some of your favorite lines from this book? (5 responses)

"What I did not know was that I had hit upon a truth of womanhood: However blameless a life we led, the passions and the greed of men could bring us to ruin, and there was nothing we could do." The most acute example of this in the novel is Pasiphae. Rather than ... - BuffaloGirl

Which was your favorite setting? (15 responses)

My favorite setting was Naxos because of its physical beauty and that is where Adiadne blossoms and comes into her own - beverlyj

Why do you think Phaedra commits suicide? How does that choice reflect both her powerlessness and her power? How do you think she will be remembered? (8 responses)

Phaedra committed suicide because she does not seem the way to have the "love" that she desires and sees suicide as her way of making a decision for herself - beverlyj

Why do you think the author chose to begin with "the story of a righteous man," describing King Minos? How do we, over the course of the novel, see how problematic these "righteous men" are? (11 responses)

Many of the stories that Ariadne will tell throughout her tales deal with the perceptions of men who are powerful and believe themselves to wield their power in service of a righteous cause. These men, like Minos, lack introspection. They are often narcissistic and can't allow their actions ... - kayswint

"[E]nchanting...Saint expertly highlights how often the women of this world pay the price for the actions of the men around them. Lovers of mythology should snap this up." - Publishers Weekly

"Complex—and bold…Fans of Madeline Miller's Circe will enjoy this faithful retelling that centers the often-forgotten women of Greek myth." - Booklist

"Ambitious but uninspiring." - Kirkus Reviews

"Beautifully written and nuanced, Ariadne explores the bonds between women and their epic quest for agency in patriarchal Greek society." - BuzzFeed

"Saint's immersive novel thrusts the reader straight into the heart of Greek mythology with this wonderful reimagining of the story of Ariadne." - The Independent (UK)

"What happens after the monster is defeated and the princess leaves with the hero? Jennifer Saint's Ariadne is a shimmering tapestry of two sisters bound by deceit and the shadows of family history. One marries a hero, the other a god. As their lives criss-cross through girlhood and womanhood, the secrets that their husbands keep become a monstrous backdrop to their relationship. With a fresh voice and keen insight, Saint adds flesh and bone to an ancient myth, drawing the reader into an uneasy world of ever-afters." - Yangsze Choo, New York Times bestselling author of The Night Tiger

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Susan L.
The Life of Ariadne
This retelling of Ariadne's life is stunning. The language pulled me in despite knowing how the story ends. Jennifer Saint brought Greek mythology to life. Her descriptions, characters and tragedies resonated with me. I felt for Ariadne, her sister, Dionysus and enjoyed the journey from liking to disliking Theseus. Saint made it read like a true story with consequences and heartache for the characters. This is the way to connect or reconnect with mythology and our own humanity. A great read.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by James C. (Warren, OH)
A Mythical Debut
If this debut is any harbinger of books to come, Jennifer Saint may join the mythical ranks of the likes of Hilary Mantel and Susannah Clarke. This sprawling novel delights with characters that jump off the page, epic action, palace intrigue, and family bonds. And it all emanates from an ancient mythical palace in Crete, and the families are gods and demi-gods! Immerse yourself in this wondrous tragic book that will require you to come up for air now and then. Don't rush - novels like these are worth pacing yourself; all the more time to dwell in the land of the gods.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Dan H
Greek mythology revisited
With lilting fairy tale language the author re introduces us to the folklore and mythology of Greece, which is only vaguely familiar to me. In juxtaposing the lives of the sisters, Ariadne and Phaedra, the author illuminates sibling love and rivalry in a beautiful way. The sisters, each strong-willed in her unique manner, chart their passages through a world controlled by men, with unpredictable machinations of the gods as a bonus. The story is filled with love and hate, vengeance and revenge, drama and tragedy, as we can only wish from the Greeks. Not a gentle tale, in the end, but one which reinvigorates their mythology. Recommended.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Peggy K. (Westminster, CO)
Meet the Women of the Myths
Jennifer Saint reimagines the myth of Ariadne and her sister Phaedra, daughters of King Minos of Crete and half-sisters to the dreaded Minotaur. It is a thrilling and yet tender tale of two sisters longing for the same thing: a life free of their tyrannical father and the ominous presence of the Minotaur, imprisoned in the stone labyrinth beneath the mosaic tiles of the palace. It is a story of love lost, won, and lost again—told by the sisters themselves. In this way, Saint gives readers a wonderfully feminist retelling of the ancient Greek myths. Highly recommend.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Marcia C. (Jeffersonville, PA)
Ariadne: A Heroine's Perspective
Lately it seems many stories have been written offering retellings of the classics of Greek mythology. Ariadne is Jennifer Saint's contribution to this genre. Her story is filled with drama and suspense leading the reader into forbidding places. Her powerful writing kept me on the edge of my seat and I found myself unable to put down the book as I followed Theseus, Ariadne and the Minotaur into those tunnels under Minos' castle where the Minotaur stalked his prey.
Saint's fresh voice energizes this tale as she presents a new take on a well-known myth. She wants her women to be seen as strong, not as victims of the misdeeds of heroes and gods. She's taken on a challenging task—one her heroines are well able to address. This is Jennifer Saint's first novel. I'm really looking forward to more.
For readers of Madeleine Miller's Circe.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Frances A Ilnicky-VanAmeyden
The Mercy of the gods
For most of my life, when I thought of mythology, Edith Hamilton's name came to the fore. Now I dare say Jennifer Saint's name may well pop to mind! Her story about Adriane was captivating! Saint piqued my interest in Chapter One, and held it through the Epilogue. I was thoroughly engrossed in the story of this young female human, Ariadne, who lives with, above, and side by side gods and men. No need to tell more! Enjoy the read!

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Maggie R. (Canoga Park, CA)
Another wonderful Greek mythogy novel!
This is a first rate retelling of the story of I fell down the Circe (Madeline Miller) rabbit hole a few years ago and have never looked back. They just keep coming. I'd love to see a "family" tree with references to the numerous novels that followed!

It's hard to believe this is a first novel for Jennifer Saint who read Classical Studies at King's College, London and spent the next thirteen years as an English teacher. She is said to be working on a novel focusing on Clytemnestra and Electra.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Rebecca
A Pleasant Surprise
I was very hesitant to read this book. Greek mythology is not really my cup of tea. I certainly am glad that I did. The story of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos, king of Crete after the slaying of the Minotaur, her brother is a fascinating one. She finds herself on Naxos, the home of Dionysus, abandoned by Theseus after helping him to kill the Minotaur. Dionysus waltzes into her life as only the god of wine can, they marry, have many little boys and life is good. Or is it? There are so many references to the gods of Olympus and their impetuous acts that I was continually looking up the stories and thoroughly enjoying them. But it grows increasingly clear that, though goddesses are revered, feared and powerful, mortal women are oppressed, repressed and often the victims of a god’s anger though the crime may be perpetrated by a mortal man. It’s a fun read and highly recommended

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Roberta R. (West Bloomfield, MI)
A Page Turner
Ariadne is a wonderful retelling of this Greek Myth. It was certainly a page turner for a first novel by Jennifer Saint. I am looking forward to her second novel which I understand will revolve around Clytemnestra and her daughter, Electra.
It was a delight to read Ariadne and to be reacquainted with Greek Mythology in a very fun way. Great interaction between the gods, goddesses, demigods and mortals. The book has everything, lies, deceits, love, passion action and hate. Ariadne would be a good book for a book club discussion.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Jennifer H. (Los Angeles, CA)
An amazing feminist epic
I was blown away by Ariadne. It presents itself so familiarly at first with all the traditional Greek myths and epic tropes. It then quickly subverts these old traditions shine a bright light of condemnation on toxic masculinity and the misogyny that runs through all these accepted classical narratives. Saint develops extremely complex characters and interactions, and explores a range of different feminine traits and personalities through the two sisters. The novel manages to be both empowering and sadly resigned. I loved it and strongly recommend this book!

more reviews...

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 an ancient myth for her second, revolving around Clytemnestra and her daughter Electra.

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