The myth of the labyrinth and the minotaur has always been a favorite of mine, which is why it is embarrassing to admit that I have never read The King Must Die by Mary Renault. It is, after all, supposed to be the quintessential novelization of Theseus. I think I have built my expectations of it so high I'm afraid to read it in case it doesn't live up. I did intend to read it before I read Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett., but then I saw Dark of the Moon sitting so enticingly on the new arrival shelf at my library and I couldn't resist it.
Synopsis (from Goodreads):
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.
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.
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 . . .
This is an excellent novelization of the minotaur myth. I loved how Barrett took the familiar and changed it just enough to give it depth and believability. For those who are familiar with the myth, you will find all the essential elements of the original story: the tribute, the yarn, the maze, the "monster", Minos. Daedalus and Icarus are both mentioned. I enjoyed the glimpses we had of Medea as well. All readers will find in Barrett's Krete a world fully realized and developed. A very intricate religious system governs the lives of Krete's inhabitants ruled by She-Who-Is-Goddess, the human manifestation of the moon goddess. This system involves yearly human sacrifice to ensure the harvest. Ariadne is She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess, daughter of the current goddess and one of the yearly sacrifices.
The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Theseus and Ariadne. This is all Ariadne's story though. Theseus, while starting off interesting, is not well developed and seemed to only serve to further Ariadne's character. Ariadne is realistically torn about her role in Krete. She is confused and lonely. Through her interactions with Asterion we see her as loving and strong. Her loneliness makes her an easy target for those who want the ways of Krete to change and she leaves herself vulnerable in ways that cause her much distress. In this version her actions take on new meaning and understanding. She has what the Ariadne from the myth was lacking, power to determine her own actions and end. She is not the girl who has her head turned by a charming hero and betrays her people only to be abandoned by said hero to fend for herself. This Ariadne grows in strength, power and knowledge of who she is. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel for what it did with her character.
If you are a fan of mythological retellings this is definitely a must read.