November 23, 2011

Dark of the Moon: A Panoramic Review

"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 . . ." (from Goodreads)
Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett

My reaction: I found the first half more interesting, but it started to get repetitive and somewhat boring partway through. (I should note here that I've never studied the Theseus/Minotaur legend and so I'm not very familiar with it.) The story that the Cretan religious belief system is founded on (that of Velchanos and Goddess) is complex and difficult to follow in all its intricacies. While it keeps getting re-hashed and added to in detail, there isn't a lot of action or major plot points until the climactic scenes toward the end. The tone is rather dark and for much of the story the prospects of the main characters are bleak indeed, so don't go into it expecting a light or fun retelling.

The main characters Ariadne and Theseus are well-defined and multi-dimensional, but I didn't personally connect with either of them. Ariadne's acceptance of the religion and her role in the rituals irritated me at times; I'm sure it was realistic for the way she'd been brought up and the times she was living in, but I wanted to see her question and doubt the system more. However, her love for her brother was endearing; it was nice to see that she cared deeply for someone outside of herself. I can't really say the same for Theseus, who often acted out of selfish motives.

I did appreciate there is no black-and-white romance going on between Theseus and Ariadne. They share more of a tentative alliance, each by turns using the other, than anything else. While Ariadne briefly flirts with the possibility that she may have fallen for Theseus, their relationship never ventures beyond the merest beginning of a friendship.

As for other characters: Ariadne's mother Pasiphaƫ isn't really likable, but the relationship between Ariadne and her was quite interesting, the mother-daughter dynamic taking on an unusual tone as Pasiphaƫ also has the role of "mentor," so to speak, to She-Who-Will-Be-Goddess. The villains seemed a bit caricature-ish and could have been fleshed out more to make them less stereotypical.

Best aspect: I enjoyed seeing how fundamentally a belief system can affect everyday lives. The close connection between their religion and nature and the harvest made sense, and although we don't know a whole lot about ancient Cretan society, many societies in ancient times had a strong correlation between the farming schedule and their spiritual traditions (i.e. paganism). The atmosphere of ancient Greece was well-evoked, the writing painting a rich picture of life back then.

If I could change something... Well, for a book being touted as a retelling of the myth of the Minotaur...we don't actually *see* the "Minotaur" (Asterion) very much! This is unfortunate, as I thought his character had a lot to offer; the way Barrett has re-interpreted the Minotaur — as a mentally challenged and physically deformed young man, rather than the actual offspring of a bull and woman — brings into play the potential for many questions of morality and empathy. I think there's more that could have been explored with Asterion, but it's overshadowed by the complexities of the Goddess/Velchanos legend and the plot surrounding Theseus and Prokris.

Also, I was a bit iffy on how the religion is handled. Through most of it, the religion is portrayed merely as a belief system without concrete evidence — which is fine. But there's one part where this shifts and the presence of a deity is implied, though granted it is told from Ariadne's perspective. I found it difficult to accept Ariadne's belief in Goddess and her presence given that we don't really get to know Goddess' character at all. However, towards the end Ariadne herself acknowledges her uncertainty about this scene, which helps to remind the reader that this is all being filtered through Ariadne's point of view. In a way, it gives it a bit more mystery to not have the question resolved one way or another.

Read if: you like Greek legends, ethics, and characters with questionable motives. 

Final verdict: 3.5 shooting stars. I like the more realistic interpretation Barrett has taken of this legend, but I didn't really empathize that much with either of the leads and thought the complexities of the religious belief system swamped the storyline in a way. 

Disclaimer: I received this book for review from the publisher.


  1. I'm not allowed to read this! I have this out from the library to read soon. No spoilers! *hides*

  2. I liked this one because it showed how myths and legends come about. It always bugged me in the original myth how a woman (Pasiphae) could give birth to a half-bull, half-man and Barrett stays realistic while still incorporating things from the original myth.

  3. I'm curious to see why the sister betrayed her own brother! According to the original myth, she didn't really get rewarded.

  4. I'm curious to read this book, but I'm not really in a hurry anymore. It sound like a very good, serious take on things, but also slow and not very uplifting.


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