CW: child death, animal sacrifice, mentions of rape, suicide, depression
As someone who only started learning more about Greek mythology fairly recently, I don't know much about the stories of Ariadne or Phaedra or even the tale of the Minotaur though I've heard the name quite a bit. So this book wouldn't have been much on my radar if not for it's gorgeous UK cover as well as the cover of the author's next release Elektra. So I was excited to find the audiobook of this story and it was definitely an experience.
The author's writing is very compelling. Right from the first page, there's a very engaging quality to it and even though I read this in short bursts and kept putting it down after maybe an hour everyday, it still remained on my mind and I was excited to continue the next day. The narration by Barrie Kreinik is also perfect and very enticing, especially when she is speaking through Ariadne's voice. The pacing could be a bit uneven with a very strong beginning but some of the middle parts feeling bogged down by the domesticity of the characters, but somehow it didn't really affect my feelings too much. However, it's the author's theme of bringing to light how men are valorized while women's pain goes unrecognized all across Greek mythology is what will remain in any reader's heart.
Ariadne is a kind person since childhood, despairing over the things she couldn't change in her life but also enduring whatever life offered her, taking care of the people she loves. But one major decision of her changes her life completely and it's an interesting character arc that she goes through. At times she is willing to defy anything and anyone to stand up for her principles and for saving helpless women, but other times she is very passive, not bothering with what's happening around her and just feeling content with her children. But whatever she does or doesn't do, she is an easy person to like.
Phaedra on the other hand starts as a precocious child who's life trajectory is remarkably different but also equally dichotomous. She is able to escape her cruel father but has to contend with a charming but indifferent husband who doesn't care about anyone but himself. She manages to involve herself in court affairs and rule like a Queen but can never take credit for her work because she is a woman. She never finds the love she craves from her husband or children but when she finally thinks she has found her true love, she is too late to turn back. I remember reading about Phaedra's story in Natalie Haynes's Pandora's Jar and the various versions of her tale across history, so I was very intrigued by the way the author wrote her ending. We ofcourse don't have any godly interventions like in Euripides's version but just the frailties of human nature.
As one might expect, the author is pretty hard hitting about the casual cruelty of the men in these myths and how they are made into heroes despite their actions causing much suffering. We get to meet the cruel Minos who only wants to rule by fear and doesn't care what happens to his family or people. Theseus is all about achieving laurels and being exalted as great, and finding joy only when he is talking about all his prowess. Dionysus is as charming as Theseus in the beginning and possibly the one male character I liked here but he too slowly falls into his nature as a god, forgetting his duties and love towards his mortal wife and children. Hippolytus is a small presence and mostly an innocent, but his description is very much clouded by how reverently Phaedra views him. Daedalus might be the only male character throughout who is genuinely written as smart, resourceful and caring. But they were all very interesting to follow along with.
In the end, I had a good time listening to this audiobook. However, the problem with any well written Greek mythology retelling, even those highlighting the women's stories, is that they will never be completely satisfactory because the women do end up suffering too much. They do get a voice in the narration but it just accentuates the pain they are experiencing. But I also love reading these stories and I'm already very excited to pick up Elektra next. That should be more interesting because I atleast know some background about Clytemnestra, so I won't be starting on completely unfamiliar grounds.