Highlights in the Charts
Ariadne by Jennifer Saint
Review by Alex Haywood
Our interest in ancient culture, most notably that of the Greeks, is perennial. There is something seductive about temperamental divine power, based in the friction of reality, that is undeniable. Greek mythology, with all of its endless caveats, wars and affairs will always intrigue (and confuse) us.
Enter Ariadne, a relatively unknown princess who plays a crucial role in one of the most iconic myths in the entire mythic canon, namely that of Theseus and the Minotaur. Except that Theseus would never have left the Labyrinth without her, so why is she unknown? It comes as no surprise that Greek mythology, in all its forms, has been marred by structural sexism. Women are at the mercy of men, divine or otherwise, and have accordingly been silenced by history. This is not something that our protagonist, Jennifer Saint, accepts.
Striving to reignite the story of Ariadne, Saint’s story is one of sisterhood, friendship and disappointed expectations. Ariadne is an intricate and emotional portrayal of womanhood in a world where a women are a tool. Ariadne centres sisters fighting against and within their confinement to forge their own destinies. Both hopeful and tragic, Ariadne feels fresh, well-crafted and brave. If you liked Circe and A Thousand Ships, this is exactly the book for you. Ariadne gives a voice to the forgotten women of history and long may they keep speaking.
The Wrath and the Dawn by Renée Ahdieh
Review by Daisy Saunders
The Wrath and the Dawn is one of those novels that unsuspectingly stays with you long after you’ve read it. Inspired by the stories of A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, Renée Ahdieh’s debut novel is rich in her awareness of Middle Eastern culture and history.
However the plot of the novel itself is very much a slow burn; the impressive wealth of Ahdieh’s writing abilities emphasised through her rich character development and worldbuilding rather than her ability to weave a plot. Her words made me long for desert heat, figs and palm trees in the way that only great writing can.
It was refreshing to read YA characters who I actually found unique. Too many teen protagonists in trending YA fiction seem to blend into one. Ahdieh’s Shahrzad stands out amongst them all - she’s complex, refreshing and supremely three-dimensional against a very typically one dimensional trope, a fantastic example of great characterisation and a great female protagonist. The other characters are also brilliantly crafted, with no character, however small, isolated from plot. Each possess their own sense of personality that makes Ahdieh’s world believable and intoxicating to read.
A beautiful and exciting tale of romance, loyalty and the Middle East; The Wrath and The Dawn greatly exceeded my expectations. I look forward to reading Ahdieh’s next instalment, The Rose and The Dagger, with (pleasantly) bated breath.
The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna
Review by Robyn Hewson
In the ancient patriarchal kingdom of Otera, teenage girls must undergo a purity ritual before they can be accepted as members of the community. If they fail the ritual, they face the Death Mandate. When sixteen-year-old Deka’s blood runs gold – the colour of impurity – she is first ostracised and then locked away by the village elders. After enduring unthinkable violence, Deka is rescued by a mysterious woman who transports her to the capital, where she begins training to be a warrior. There, Deka is able to unlock her true potential and unleash the power inside her.
Namina Forna’s breathtaking debut is a West-African inspired, feminist fantasy novel which has been aptly described as a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and Black Panther. Upon its release in February 2021, it quickly climbed the bestseller charts, with a film adaption having already been confirmed. I was eager to find out if the novel would live up to this critical acclaim, and was certainly not disappointed.
In Otera, Forna has created a vast and intriguing narrative world, inspired by her childhood growing up in Sierra Leone. I hope that we will see more of this world in her sophomore novel, The Merciless Ones, expected in 2022. Much like in Ahdieh’s novel, the Forna’s characterisation is also outstanding. Deka is a formidable protagonist, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching transformation as the novel progressed. Much like that between June and her co-conspirators in The Handmaid’s Tale, the bond between Deka and her bloodsisters provided uplifting moments of solidarity and sisterhood.
Mixing elements of YA, feminist literature and Afrofuturism, this unforgettable novel puts a fresh spin on the fantasy genre. I can’t wait to see what is next for Deka.