Wednesday, December 01, 2021

Zenobia Neil's Ariadne Unraveled: A Mythic Retelling presents a new side of the classical Greek myth

Best known in Greek mythology as the Princess of Crete who helped the Athenian prince Theseus escape the labyrinth and kill the Minotaur, her half-brother, Ariadne is given fresh treatment in this new retelling.

The prologue impressively evokes her despair and fury after waking alone on the shores of Naxos, abandoned by Theseus, her lover, after betraying her family for him. Neil first moves back and then forward from this low point in Ariadne’s life, giving her agency and showing her as much more than a selfish man’s discarded mistress.

Ariadne Unraveled primarily recounts the romance between Ariadne and her husband Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy, among other fun qualities, and how their life together is thwarted by the capricious jealousy of the goddess Artemis, Dionysus’s half-sister, whom Ariadne serves. (Theseus comes back into the picture midway through.)

Many different versions of Ariadne’s story exist, and Neil stitches a collection of them together into a coherent whole, all written in bright and energetic prose. Alongside their love story, we witness the ebb and flow of power: how Ariadne, a high priestess used to being surrounded by eager handmaidens, contends with the gradual loss of hers, while Dionysus, a new god, learns to control his divine abilities.

The writing style is anything but dry. The Minoans are an attractive, athletic, and sensual people, and the varied sex scenes will definitely steam up your Kindle. The special effects are fabulous, too: we have creative shapeshifting, wild drunken parties, gods making trouble, and grapevines that magically twine around things.

In contrast, the author’s portrait of the underworld is hauntingly plaintive. While Dionysus and Ariadne seem to fall in love instantaneously, their relationship grows in emotional richness over time. In all, an entertaining reinterpretation of a classic story.

Ariadne Unraveled was published in July by Hypatia Books, and I'd reviewed it from my own copy for November's Historical Novels Review.  As you can infer, this was a fun book to read, and a fun review to write. Ariadne's story has been a favorite of mine for a long time, ever since reading June Rachuy Brindel's novel Ariadne (1980) when I was in high school. I've also used it as a nickname on various online bulletin boards for years, including on LibraryThing. So of course I was going to read this novel eventually. I haven't yet read Jennifer Saint's Ariadne. Historical fiction readers who enjoy Greek myth retellings now have a lot to choose from!

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