cover image Ariadne's Web

Ariadne's Web

Fred Saberhagen. Tor Books, $25.95 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86629-7

This followup to The Face of Apollo plants one foot in the mythology of ancient Greece and the other in Saberhagen's wry take on the frailties of human nature-a slippery position, as it turns out. The novel is based on the myth of Prince Theseus, who is shanghaied to Crete as tribute to evil King Minos, cajoles Princess Ariadne into stringing him through the deadly Labyrinth and kills the monstrous Minotaur. To Saberhagen, though, Theseus is an opportunistic pirate who uses, then dumps, Ariadne in his pursuit of a god's Face: a mask ""as clear as fine glass"" that, when donned by a mortal avatar, sinks below his skin and endows him with divine attributes--but not with immortality. Meanwhile, Alex, a soldier smitten by hopeless love for Ariadne, becomes the avatar of Dionysus, god of wine and ecstasy. Aided by the genial Minotaur Asterion, the source of Saberhagen's pithiest reflections on human foibles, Alex/Dionysus swashes his way through several rousing Aegean adventures to rescue Ariadne, but his knees buckle at the sight of Hades, Lord of the Underworld, whose ""great game"" of eternal warfare against Apollo, god of the sun, anchors this fantasy series. Despite all the fun, Saberhagen's redo of classical myth has pitfalls. Jerky shifts in point of view disrupt the action; names seemingly snatched haphazardly out of Bulfinch's Mythology tend to distract. Most problematic of all, Saberhagen waters down mighty gods into mere rollicking humans, denaturing deities who for time immemorial have given Western culture its metaphors for the human condition. Something necessary to human imagination is thereby lost--and the old magic just isn't there. (Jan.)