Ariadne is destined to become a goddess of the moon. She leads a lonely life, filled with hours of rigorous training by stern priestesses. Her former friends no longer dare to look at her, much less speak to her. All that she has left are her mother and her beloved, misshapen brother Asterion, who must be held captive below the palace for his own safety.
So when a ship arrives one spring day, bearing a tribute of slaves from Athens, Ariadne sneaks out to meet it. These newcomers don’t know the ways of Krete; perhaps they won’t be afraid of a girl who will someday be a powerful goddess. And indeed she meets Theseus, the son of the king of Athens. Ariadne finds herself drawn to the newcomer, and soon they form a friendship—one that could perhaps become something more.
Yet Theseus is doomed to die as an offering to the Minotaur, that monster beneath the palace—unless he can kill the beast first. And that “monster” is Ariadne’s brother . . .
I’m not as familiar with the Theseus myth as I am with other Greek myths, but this was a significant deviation from the original. All the key points were there, but reinterpreted in imaginative, yet logical ways. Most notable is the minotaur himself. Rather than being the offspring of Pasiphae and a bull, he’s Ariadne’s older, mentally handicapped brother Asterion. He still possess incredible strength that contributes to him accidentally killing numerous people. As such, he’s kept hidden deep within the labyrinthine palace, but he’s no more of a monster than anyone else.
The book alternates between two viewpoints – Ariadne and Theseus – but it is truly the former’s story. She is the daughter of She-Who-Is-Goddess (Pasiphae), and one day she’ll step into her mother’s role. They serve as vessels for Goddess, or Karia, and it is Pasiphae who is the true ruler of Krete. Ariadne and her mother’s fulfillment of the rituals, along with that of the Minos and the various men deemed to be vessels of the god Velchanos, are what insures healthy and plentiful crops, fertility among the women and animals, and overall prosperity in Krete. Although Theseus’ story plays out in tandem with Ariadne’s, the main plot revolves around the requirements and expectations of Goddess worship. Ariadne is in the midst of her training to one day take on her mother’s role, but there are hints that not everything is well and that the very foundation of Goddess worship is in danger. Ariadne needs to make sure the annual springtime ritual of renewal is carried out appropriately, but Asterion’s existence makes the continuation of the system all the more unstable. Theseus’ tale included most of the original elements of the myth. Again, many of them were twisted in new and interesting ways, such as the identity of his father and the ball of thread Ariadne gives him to find his way to the “minotaur”.
The world-building and religious practices and beliefs were easily my favorite part of the book. Although Krete worships both a god and goddess, the religion is largely female in focus. Goddess is the main deity in everyone’s daily lives, as signified by Pasiphae, a designated vessel who embodies Goddess every springtime. Similarly, Pasiphae is the true ruler of Krete, and not the Minos. This is disconcerting to Theseus and Procris, a princess of Athens, both of whom believe that a king should rule rather than a woman. Other kingdoms don’t practice or recognize Krete’s ritual of renewal, which includes human sacrifice as well as the embodiment of deities. From my limited knowledge of Greek history, this was a reasonably common form of religious practice. As such, it was interesting to see that be at odds with the typical Greek pantheon of deities and forms of worship, along with the gendered element of who deserves to be in charge or revered.
From a writing and creative perspective, I admired who the author kept so many of the same elements of the myth of Theseus, but completely switched the focus and subverted many of those details to create an entirely new story that was just as meaningful in its own right. For me, the most subversive part was not the matriarchal religion (although that’s a close second) but Asterion as the minotaur. Unlike the myth, this book isn’t about a heroic quest, but about continuation and survival. Rather than a monster to be killed, he’s someone to be protected. Asterion’s existence is proof of sacrilege and Pasiphae’s disregard of Goddess, and so Ariadne works not only to protect their faith, but to protect her brother as well.
Ariadne and Theseus were likeable enough, but they were never more than that, particularly Theseus. Each of them had their roles to play and duties to perform, and each carried them out accordingly. There were no real surprises from any of them. Ariadne, being the protagonist, was the more developed of the two in that her fear and uncertainty in becoming She-Who-Is-Goddess was more immediate. Thus, she felt more rounded. Still, this was not a book that I read for the characters. Honestly, I can’t think of much more to say about them.
If you’re looking for a good re-telling of famous Greek myths, this is most likely one of the most original and smart ones out there. However, it’s probably a good idea to read this book more for the story and the plot rather than the characters who are carrying it out. That being said, it’s well-written and there’s nothing hugely objectionable about it. It’s a good book. For me, it just wasn’t the type of book that I could fall in love with.
Disclosure – library