Lifestyles of Gods and Monsters by Emily Roberson brings Greek mythology firmly into the 21st century.
TRIGGER WARNING: gore, murder, controlling relationships, morally bankrupt parents
The cameras are always watching.
Sixteen-year-old Ariadne’s whole life is curated and shared with the world. Her royal family’s entertainment empire is all over social media, beloved by the tabloids, and the hottest thing on television. The biggest moneymaker? The Labyrinth Contest, a TV extravaganza in which Ariadne leads fourteen teens into a maze to kill a monster. To win means endless glory; to lose means death. In ten seasons, no one has ever won.
When the gorgeous, mysterious Theseus arrives at the competition and asks Ariadne to help him to victory, she doesn’t expect to fall for him. He might be acting interested in her just to boost ratings. Their chemistry is undeniable, though, and she can help him survive. If he wins, the contest will end for good. But the monster would have to die — and for Ariadne, his life might be the only one worth saving.
Ariadne’s every move is watched by the public and predestined by the gods, so how can she find a way to forge her own destiny and save the people she loves?
I enjoyed reading mythology, even back to my school days. But this book really brought mythology to an entirely new place. While it’s set in Crete, it isn’t the mythological setting I was used to. It’s a modern-day Crete, with cell phones, cameras everywhere, and reality TV, among other things. It made the story relatable in a way that myths typically aren’t.
Ariadne is a young woman who is trapped in a lifestyle she doesn’t want. While her family cashes in on their reality TV shows, Ariadne despises being in the limelight.
“Killing a big-name monster is the fastest route to something even more valuable — fame, eternal glory, their name written in the stars, an ordinary life — the thing that everyone seems to be seeking. Except for me. I’d be more than willing to accept a boring, ordinary life, if anyone was offering.”
However, she has to play her part in The Labyrinth Contest since she’s keeper of the maze, and she’s the only person that can approach the Minotaur. Her sisters and mother make me think of the Kardashians in a lot of ways. Even worse are her parents; they’re morally bankrupt and so manipulative.
“I thought they wanted this. Maybe they do, but that doesn’t change the fact that they don’t have any choice about doing it. They are doing what my mother wants. Making us famous.”
By staying out of the limelight, Ariadne has avoided this … until Theseus appears and she finds herself cast in a plot line that she doesn’t have a choice about. In the process, she learns how to speak up for herself, state what she wants, and make some difficult decisions.
“All this time, I thought the deaths of the Athenians were the only sacrifice the gods demanded. I was wrong. The gods were asking something of me, too. More than my childhood, which they stole so long ago I barely remember it. They have to take my soul, too.”
Icarus is featured prominently in the story as well. He’s Ariadne’s best (and only) friend, and his role is much broader than in the traditional story. Instead of being the guy with wings made of wax, he’s a complex character — trapped on Crete, not allowed to leave, and working behind the scenes of reality TV. He does always draw pictures of himself wearing wings, and I loved how he is a gay character, but his character arc isn’t all about his sexuality.
There were a lot of things to like about this book and how it was done. It portrayed the Minotaur in realistic terms, as not just a monster, but also a tragically exploited family member. All the kids in the family are tragically exploited, in fact. Family drama makes for a great story, and this family has more than the usual amount. There’s hints of not just Kardashian-esque flavor, but also a bit of Romeo and Juliet — Theseus is the son of her father’s worst enemy. When he asks her to help him win, she’s torn between romance and betrayal.
Reality TV can be entertaining to watch, but this book doesn’t shy away from sharing the ugliness that’s behind the scenes that we never get to see. In a family that is obsessed by ratings, Ariadne seems to be the only genuine member of the family, and I kind of love her a lot. Icarus and Theseus are other genuine characters, and they’re really difficult not to love too. Plus it doesn’t hurt that Theseus is basically a Greek god (yeah, pun intended).
The book had great pacing. The story flowed naturally, and while I knew the story from myths, this added so many new layers of nuance to it. Myths don’t offer much in the way of insight into thoughts or feelings, but this book gave such a refreshing new perspective. It actually made mythology even more interesting than it normally is. The story kind of reminds me of a cross between Circe by Madeline Miller and a fairy tale retelling.
Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars