I’ve had a run of bad luck the past few years where the first book I pick to read ends up, at worst, pretty terrible, and at best, readable but not enjoyable. Unfortunately, Ariadne by Jennifer Saint falls into the latter. Since I spent a lot of 2023 reading and rereading Greek Mythological retellings (thank you Natalie Haynes and Madeline Miller among others), I honestly thought this would be a shoo-in as an easy read, my return to CBR, and jump starting my reading for 2024. Instead, I’m just grateful I have an audio book and several other physical books I had already started on the side table.
I feel like most folks are at least generally familiar with the story of Ariadne, Cretian daughter of Minos and Theseus’ aid in destroying the Minotaur. The tradition of her story actually varies a lot, in some stories having been killed, or killing herself, or being abandoned on purpose or on accident, sometimes ending up as Dionysys wife and sometimes not. Regardless, these stories are so often told from the perspective of the men and gods involved, rather than the mortal women who generally bear the burden of action and consequence. This is precisely why I love reading retellings that give us insights and perspectives into the characters of these stories, often the women or those marginalized by the gods and “heroes.” Reading brighter, more dynamic tellings of these tragedies, that sometimes subvert our expectations, is my jam and I crave them!
Sadly, Saint’s retelling is fairly dry from the beginning. At every point of potential, where she begins to take an interesting direction with the smaller details of the story, things end up feeling rushed or incomplete in their exploration. I am especially frustrated by the development of the relationship between Ariadne and her sister, Phaedra. Phaedra becomes a narrator further along in the book and her viewpoint is a lot more interesting than her sister’s but the relationship between them feels undernourished in the narrative so the places at which they interact and where we are supposed to care about the choices they make with regards to each other fall flat.
There are a few great choices that Saint makes that had more potential:
- Theseus is an unrepentant liar and cad which just feels so right and deserving for this “hero.” He does not really get his in the end, though, and pretty much continues on his path of destroying other’s lives in the name of heroic honor and pride.
- Dionysus, eventual husband to Ariadne, is a nicely developed character, a god who is a little closer to human at first and who we watch degenerate, ending up in the same place as so many of his godly relatives.
- Both Phaedra and Ariadne’s experiences as mothers are interesting and different. I wish Saint had spent even more time here than she did.
Anyway, here’s hoping my future picks for 2024 aren’t so dull!