As daughters of Minos, king of Crete, Ariadne and Phaedra watch 14 Athenian children being sacrificed to their half-brother the Minotaur every year. When the Athenian prince Theseus volunteers to be a sacrifice and attemps to kill the monster, Ariadne immediately falls for his good looks and heroic stories. She promises him her help and in return asks Theseus to take her away from her father’s wrath.
Jennifer Saint made her debut with this story about Ariadne. I have read Elektra before and enjoyed the story, especially because of the very human Helen, so I decided to try this one out as well. A subject I know a lot less about than the Trojan War.
Ariadne opens with the more or less well-known story of Theseus and the minotaur. But what happens afterwards to Ariadne, Phaedra and Theseus is less well known. We follow Ariadne on Naxos and her meeting with Dionysus, while we also reads Phaedra’s story in Crete, after the disappearance of her sister. In addition to the stories of the main characters, many other mythological characters are present: Daedalus and Icarus, Medusa and Perseus, Pasiphae, Hippolythus and even Medea.
With Ariadne, Saint presents a credible, somewhat naive main character with whom you quickly sympathize. Her sister Phaedra is much more lively and their mutual sisterly relationship is beautifully developed.
The story has a clear feminist angle. The focus is on how women are punished by the gods through the actions of men. Women are the playthings of heroes who take all the credit. You meet a Theseus who can’t really be called sympathetic. The story also explores the rites of Dionysus and his followers the maenads. It doesn’t exclude the hardships that women who ran away to Naxos had to face at home.
I enjoyed this book very much and think it’s certainly as good as Elektra. Both books have something special and it’s hard for me to point out a clear favourite. In terms of writing style and pacing I still prefer Miller and Haynes, but Saint really belongs in this list. I wonder which myth she will explore in her next book.
Have you read anything by Jennifer Saint so far?