Fred Saberhagen,
Ariadne's Web
(Tor, 2000)

If there's one thing that Fred Saberhagen knows how to write, it's stories that give gods more human foibles than any Greek or Norse myth could ever hope to achieve. From the Book of Swords, which inflicted 12 novels on humanity, to his new Book of the Gods volumes, Saberhagen manages to remove any mystique from godhood and turn them into regular humans with special powers; i.e., the stuff that afternoon cartoons are made of.

For Ariadne's Web, Saberhagen decided to take the myth of the Minotaur, stand it on it's head, flip it around a few times, beat it with a rock, dunk it in acid, set it on fire, and about fifteen more medieval tortures, to give us a story that begs for your suspension of disbelief. Maybe it was the inclusion of the Hindu god Shiva into a story set in Greece that started this story off on the wrong foot. Why Saberhagen decided to add Shiva into a story based on Greek mythology, which is just full of various gods and god-like beings to fill protagonist and antagonist slots for many volumes, is beyond me. He establishes Zeus as one of the three major gods (next to Poseidon and Hades, of course), yet fails to realize that Shiva makes up one of the three major gods in Hindu mythology and grants him minor god status. I can ignore historical evidence, timelines and whatnot, and say that India might have been known to ancient Greece and that Hindu gods would have been known to them as well. Of course, this is the same thing I have to do whenever watching an episode of Hercules and Xena, so I guess it won't be a stretch for the casual viewer.

As opposed to the rest of the story, it's an interesting take on the concept of godhood and mythology. The inclusion of such well-known Greek characters such as Theseus, Ariadne, Daedelus and Nestor gives some credit to the story, while Saberhagen has fun with the characters. For example, Daedelus creates a balloon with feathers in a bucket attached to give the people watching it take off the idea that he is escaping the island on wings he created, while in fact he's slinking around the island looking for a boat. Theseus turns out to be a pirate, and the Minotaur becomes a sympathetic, if underused, character. Saberhagen continues using his tried and true formula of using objects (magical swords in the Book of Swords, masks in the Book of the Gods) to confer powers onto the user. In this case, regular humans become the avatars of gods by wearing masks.

Unfortunately, good ideas do not make good books. Saberhagen makes repeated references to actions in the first book which are meaningless unless you had actually read them. He creates a host of good and evil characters and never provides enough closure to them all. It was as if he decided in midstream to turn major characters into supporting ones. The truth is, of course, that these characters will probably appear in his next book. There was a great deal of build-up to certain events in this book which end in poorly written and hastily acted finishes and leave you unfulfilled. I would love to tell you not to read this book, but I think the ideas behind it were interesting enough to merit a read. I'm sure in a few years, once Saberhagen has written a few more books, the publishers will release a compilation of the stories. I would probably recommend reading that instead. If you're looking for serious writing, go elsewhere. If you're looking for an extremely light read with characters you may already know about, you will probably enjoy this book. As for me, I'm going to the library to pick up a few books on Greek mythology to remember my original fascination with the stories.

[ by Timothy Keene ]

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