Author: Jennifer Saint
Publisher: Wildfire, 2021
The Author: Jennifer Saint read Classical Studies at King’s College, London. As an English teacher she shared her love of Greek mythology and creative writing with her students. Ariadne is her first novel.
The Book: From horror to the exotic, the court of Minos, king of Crete, is a world of mystical beasts, human sacrifice and incestuous Greek gods who meddle wilfully in the lives of men.
Into this world comes Ariadne, beautiful princess of Crete and granddaughter of Helios, the sun god. In Ariadne’s palace, a specially designed dancing floor is her solace. Saint weaves delightful visions of the dancing princess throughout the narrative.
Beneath the palace roams Ariadne’s monstrous, blood-thirsty brother, the minotaur, imprisoned in a labyrinth from which there is no escape.
Defeating Athens at war, King Minos demands a cruel tribute – fourteen Athenian youths annually to be fed to the minotaur. When Theseus, prince of Athens, arrives in Crete as a sacrifice to the minotaur, Ariadne falls in love with him. She is torn between loyalty to Crete and her passion for the handsome prince. Love wins and Ariadne helps Theseus escape. He takes her to the island of Naxos, makes love to her and disappears in the night.
Ariadne’s brother Deucalion, now king of Crete, believing Ariadne dead, makes an effort to repair his father’s cruelty. He gives Theseus, now king of Athens, Ariadne’s younger sister’, Phaedra, as his wife. But Ariadne is very much alive. She learns too late that the sister she loves is now queen of Athens and married to the man she adores. Will this drive a wedge between the two powerful sisters? Or will men’s treachery strengthen their bond?
Ariadne is fantasy for adults…a story of tragedy and triumph. With fertile imagination, characters from Greek mythology and their relationships with each other are brought to life in intimate detail. The gods, it seems, were forever coupling with mortals – the Biblical notion of a virgin becoming pregnant to a god was not new at the time of the evangelists.
While not quite a feminist manifesto, Ariadne reflects on woman’s eternal struggle for equality before the law and in society, and makes great sport of “his-story”. Saint’s protagonists, Ariadne and her sister Phaedra, are not simpering females enthralled by male heroes, but self-sufficient women weary of men’s boasting. They are metaphors for the two paths most commonly chosen by women: one as homemaker, mother and wife; the other wielding power in the world.
There is a touch of bitterness in the themes: all men lie, all men betray you, and women always pay for men’s misdeeds. For the reader there is shock, as twists of the plot undo what we expect.
Review by: Maureen Riches, May 2021
Ballarat Writers Inc. Book review group