I received a free ARC of The Maidens by Alex Michaelides from Macmillan in an exchange for an honest review.
I tell you what, I am just really not sure what to say about this book! I kind of feel like I want to sit with it some more, but I need to get this review out. I’m reading so many books this month they would just pile up if I didn’t keep on top of them, so this review is just going to have to suffer.
The Maidens is Michaelides’s sophomore effort, but he has managed to avoid the sophomore slump. This was a very propulsive book, and I actually liked its setting and overall story a bit more than The Silent Patient, though it didn’t quite feel like the characters were as fully drawn in this one. He once again makes Greek mythology and psychology the center of the novel (this makes sense as he has training in psychology, and is from Cyprus), and I really appreciated those nerdy details as it gives the book some weight. (Both of his books actually take place in the same universe as is made clear when several characters from The Silent Patient pop up here.)
Our main character is Mariana, a half-Greek, half-British group therapist now living in London, one year after the death of her husband, Sebastian. Mariana, who is only 36, is still deep in the throes of grief for her husband, who died very unexpectedly. Her life has been seemingly marked by tragedy and death. This is further emphasized when she gets a call from her niece, Zoe, who is studying at Cambridge. Her close friend Tara is missing, and a body has been found. And as Mariana practically raised Zoe after the death of Zoe’s parents as a young child, she rushes to Cambridge to be there for her. Once there, Mariana becomes embroiled in a strange series of circumstances involving Greek tragedy, murdered girls, and a secret society of young women led by the charismatic professor, Edward Fosca, who Mariana quickly suspects of being the murderer.
Up until the ending, I thought this book did a fabulous job of keeping you on edge, of suspecting literally everyone. I mean it, literally everyone. Well, except—spoilers for The Silent Patient here—SPOILERS Mariana. I really didn’t think that Michaelides would pull the same unreliable ‘the narrator is actually secretly the bad guy’ stunt again END SPOILERS. This thing was so full of red herrings, just chock-a-block full of ’em. Despite that, this book felt a lot more straightforward than his first book. Here, the tension mostly came from Mariana’s growing sense of instability, and from her fixation on Edward Fosca, whose actions indicate a fiendish cleverness that is chilling.
The reason this isn’t getting the full four stars is the ending, which I thought was extremely abrupt, and didn’t quite click into place like I think Michaelides was aiming for, the way the ending of The Silent Patient did, where you might not have seen all the events coming, but they make sense after the fact, as all the little clues that stuck out now have somewhere to fit. I didn’t get that sense here, and I feel almost as if I have to read this again to get the full effect. I don’t think I would mind doing that, but I shouldn’t have to.
All in all, a good second book, a quick read, and worth picking up if you like the thriller/suspense/mystery genre.
[3.5 stars, rounded up]