Welcome back, folks! We have another week of reviewing books! For who? Beats me! But I’m sitting here at my modular table writing my review of this week’s book. Who am I, you may ask? Excellent question! I’m Victoria and I write book reviews in this column, but all the books I review come from an app you may have heard of: TikTok. But you see, I don’t have TikTok. So now you may ask, “But Victoria, how then do you know about the books from TikTok if you don’t have TikTok?” The answer: I’m clairvoyant.
Kidding! No, actually I have Instagram, and Instagram Reels is TikTok like two weeks behind or something. At least that’s the lore I have come to believe, after being told this from my sources. When I procure said books from the interweb, either through going to bookstores or loaning from friends, I then review them to tell you (yes, you specifically) whether it was worth the read or not. Now full disclosure: my opinion is my opinion so you may not agree with it, but hey that’s on you to decide to take the recommendation or not. Warning: I am generally not picky about books and it takes a lot for me to not enjoy a book.
Well, this is probably the most unhinged introduction to this column I’ve ever written and I hope you have enjoyed my descent into madness because yeah, we are at that point in the semester friends.
Anyway, I guess I should actually start reviewing the book that is my whole purpose for being here. This week’s victim is “Ariadne” by Jennifer Saint.
“Ariadne” by Jennifer Saint
If you’ve been to my column before you know I am an absolute sucker for a mythology retelling. I’ve been down the Madeline Miller rabbit hole with “Circe” and “Song of Achilles,” and I’ve also gone to some Norse and Arabian mythology retellings—big fan.
Now Ariadne had been on my list for some time, it just took a while to actually get the book. Luckily my roommate read the book and offered it to me after she finished it. And boy oh boy was I excited.
Let’s start with the presentation. The cover is epic. I mean it genuinely is so aesthetically pleasing. Yes, yes I like to judge books by their cover, you have to think about the real estate potential of a book on your shelves—duh. So if you’re thinking about making an investment in a book to add it to your collection, Ariadne not only comes with a great story but also a beautiful cover to display.
Now onto the plot. If you have not guessed by the title, we are following the story of Ariadne, a Cretan princess and daughter of King Minos of Crete. Where does she fall in the mythology lore? Well, with King Minos of Crete being her father and her mother Pasiphaë, that makes her the sister of the Minotaur. You remember that guy? The beast who was born after Zeus convinced Pasiphaë to have sex with a bull to get back at Minos, and then the beast gets locked in a labyrinth? Yeah this is that story.
Ariadne is known in mythology because she became a traitor to Crete by helping Jason—a tribute sent into the labyrinth—kill the Minotaur and escape from the labyrinth. Now in most accounts of mythology, Ariadne helped Jason because she loved him. Now, maybe lust had a slight impact on her action in Saint’s retelling, but Saint changes Ariadne’s main motive for helping Jason because she cannot stand the injustice of her father demanding 12 children as tributes that get killed every year after entering the labyrinth. She hates the idea of her brother the Minotaur killing them and leaving many families grieving. So the first half of the book focuses on Ariadne’s life in Crete as a princess and ends with her fleeing with Jason.
Jason, like many men, sucks—for a lack of being able to publish more explicit words. He’s a Greek hero, which kind of means he has to suck, but in Saint’s retelling, Jason’s suckiness (which will be left not explicitly stated to avoid spoilers) leads Ariadne to Dionysus, the god of wine.
The next half of the book is about Ariadne in her guardian era, because queen is just trying to mind her own business. When she comes across Dionysus’ island he asks her to be the guardian of it while he’s away to maintain it. She doesn’t have many prospects or options here so she decides to stay.
Can I just say, I love Ariadne and Dionysus. Before you all get up in arms that Dionysus isn’t THAT great of a character we should note he has to be seriously flawed because he’s a freaking Greek god and they’re problematic as hell. But on the scale of problematic-ness, he’s on the less problematic side until the last like 50 pages. But I forgive him.
Now I have to say Saint does a great job at bringing to light the idea that the ones who get punished by the gods are not typically the ones who did anything wrong. For instance, Pasiphaë did not offend the gods, her husband did, but becuase of his error she is then shamed and gives birth to a beast. Saint shows Ariadne watching her mother slip away after what the gods did to her for an offense she did not commit. Ariadne goes on to notice this trend again and again, connecting the same idea back to Medusa who got a head of snakes after a god made advances at her.
While this is a trend in mythology, it’s also just a greater general trend in life where oftentimes the people who get the punishment are not the ones who committed the crime. Then those wrongfully punished have to live with the consequences of other people’s actions. Some really big stuff there that I really thought was executed well.
SPOILER PARAGRAPH CAUSE I CAN: Saint’s retelling does stray from mythology. And she does so to tie back to the big theme I just wrote about. Ariadne gets turned to stone after Dionysus offends his brother. This part of the book literally broke me, because Saint writes as Ariadne is being turned to stone. She writes about her eyes meeting Dionysus’ and ugh it really did a number on me. In the mythology, Dionysus brings Ariadne back from the underworld and makes her a goddess, but in Saint’s retelling she already had Dionysus bring someone back from the dead and it was his mother after she was screwed over by Hera—again for an offense she did not commit.
It really was just such a beautiful book, I didn’t even really talk about Araidne’s relationship with her sister, which was also so powerful. Saint does such an excellent job of showing consequences and the ripple effects they can have on people. Great retelling, did leave me kind of sad, would read again.
Next up we are going to have “Never Let Me Go” by Kazuo Ishiguro, which let me tell you I have THOUGHTS on.