Thursday, August 18, 2011

Waning: Dark of the Moon by Tracy Barrett

My mother was with me.

And not only my mother, but her mother and all our Mothers invisible but present nonetheless.

I could not see her, but I felt her presence. I looked out over my people and felt a rush of love. They were so imperfect, and different from the other, yet so beautiful, even the old ones deformed with suffering and the tall, young ones... They were all My children, and they were all beautiful.

I had been Goddess since time was time, and I would be Goddess forever.

Just coming into her own womanhood, Ariadne knows that her loving and so human mother is also She-Who-Is-Goddess and that somday on her death, she herself, now Goddess-Who-Will-Be, must pass through a ceremony in which the goddess of the moon will enter her own body, and make her the living essence of the the deity. But Ariadne's mother unexpectedly dies in childbirth, and her young daughter, not fully prepared, must face the ritual which will make her Goddess incarnate. Then, filled with the essence of that deity, she must choose a consort at the Spring Festival, a mortal man who will briefly take on the spirit of Velchanos and who will be made a blood sacrifice on the third day to insure a good harvest for Crete.

Crete is a matriarchal theocracy, ruled by the living incarnation of the Goddess of the Moon as high priestess, and her oldest blood brother as the Minos, the judge and lawkeeper of the realm. But Ariadne's oldest brother, the Minotauros, is Asterion, huge and hideously deformed gentle but severely limited in mind, bound by her mother's spell in a chamber below the palace, and Ariadne knows that when she becomes Goddess, he will never be able to function as her Minos.

Into this unsettled time before her initiation comes a tribute ship from Athens, bearing the required sacrifical youth and Theseus, the king's son, set to be killed to atone for the death in Athens of Crete's own Minos-to-Be in the previous generation. Theseus has only just learned that he is a son of King Aegeus of Athens and is an open and curious young man as yet unaware of his fate when his ship arrives at Knossus. He and an Athenian girl, Prokris, befriend Ariadne, whom non-priestly Creteans are forbidden to speak with or touch, her only confidantes as she fearfully prepares for the fateful day. But Prokris is a shrewd young woman and soon makes herself a place as the youngest wife of the Minos, Ariadne's kindly uncle, and schemes to enlist Theseus in a takeover of the rule of Crete when Ariadne's brother is made the Minos.

As the day of her ritual draws near, Ariadne fears that the court rumors of her birth may be true and that she will not be worthy of becoming Goddess. But as she emerges from the temple, deadly snakes secure in each hand, she feels that she indeed has become She-Who-Is-Goddess, and when the time comes to choose the man who is possessed of the spirit of the sacrificial bull, the god Velchanos himself, it is Theseus to whom she is drawn and Theseus whom she chooses as her husband. Theseus, learning of his imminent blood sacrifice to ensure the fertility of the harvest, determines that he will not give himself willingly to that fate, and as the ball of enchanted thread which holds the fate of Crete is unraveled, everything is changed.

Tracy Barrett's Dark of the Moon (Harcourt, 2011) is a gripping reworking of the legend of the Minotaur. Barrett is skillful in weaving into her own story of loyalty and love much of the mythology and history of Crete and ancient Athens, and makes of this legendary account a deeply personal coming-of-age human story, albeit one of a time long gone, the story of the flesh-and-blood mortals whose struggles with custom and fate have become the basis of the well-known mythic stories of Theseus and Ariadne.

Kirkus Reviews wrote "Ariadne weaves a new tale in a historically rich reworking of Theseus and the Minotaur... A world and story both excitingly alien and pleasingly familiar." and gives this forthcoming book a rare starred review rating.

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