This absorbing and detailed retelling of the Greek myth featuring Theseus and the Minotaur gives a powerful voice to the Princess of Crete who betrayed her father – but what happened after she ran away with Theseus? 

Detailed, powerful and magical from start to finish, Ariadne is the debut novel from Jennifer Saint and it feels as though that everything that Ariadne and her sister Phaedra go through the reader experiences alongside them.

The primary focus of the book is what happens after Princess Ariadne leaves Crete and her family behind after helping Theseus destroy the Minotaur (her half brother) and the consequences that her actions have on both sister’s lives. It is a story of betrayal, love, grief and motherhood that reveals a lot of contemporary ideas in a classical setting that makes the reader think about how they would react in a similar situation.

Written with great style and insight, the way in which both stories tragically unfold makes for compelling reading – particularly when both women realise that they have been betrayed and simply used by powerful men for their own means which is a tragedy in itself. In particular, when Ariadne realises that Theseus has simply abandoned her or when Phaedra uncovers Theseus’s lies – moments like this have been evocatively written and pack a real punch.

Both central female characters are strong and independent in their own ways – seeing Phaedra growing into the role of Queen is feels particularly empowering, highlighting her intelligence and equality to the men that sit on the council. Meanwhile, seeing how Ariadne adapts to life on Naxos shows her strength of mind. In contrast to this the male characters are all despicable in their behaviour including Minos and his overbearing nature, the vanity of Theseus and the increasingly dissatisfied nature of Dionysus – all of their decisions have massive consequences to both Ariadne and Phaedra. This in turn forces them both to become even more resilient in reaction to whatever is thrown at them.

It is completely engaging to read, but there are moments in which the writing can feel a tad blunt but for the most part there is an element of magic about it that keeps the reader thoroughly absorbed in this ancient world. To highlight both Ariadne and Phaedra’s stories at the same time is an ambitious achievement and I can’t help but wonder if it would have been better to have focused on Adriane’s story and approached Phaedra’s separately.

This being said, it is a wonderfully imaginative retelling and will certainly please those who have enjoyed Madeline Miller’s ‘The Song of Achilles’ and ‘Circe’.

By Emma Clarendon

Ariadne is available to buy now.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐