Atalanta by Jennifer Saint

Having enjoyed Jennifer Saint’s first two novels, Ariadne and Elektra, I was looking forward to reading her third one, Atalanta. Like the others, it explores the life of a woman from Greek mythology, in this case Atalanta, famous as a hunter, a runner and the only female Argonaut.

Daughter of the King of Arcadia, the baby Atalanta is left to die on a mountain because her father had hoped for a son. Rescued by bears and raised along with their cubs, Atalanta grows up under the watchful eye of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, who later takes her to live amongst the nymphs in the forest. As she reaches adulthood, it is clear that Atalanta possesses special skills in hunting, shooting and running. Elsewhere, Jason is preparing to set out aboard the Argo on his mission to obtain the Golden Fleece from the King of Colchis. With the blessing of Artemis, Atalanta joins the quest, but it won’t be easy to persuade Jason and his men to accept her as a fellow Argonaut.

I won’t go into all the details of the myth here, but Saint incorporates most of the elements that are often associated with Atalanta: the Calydonian boar hunt, her relationship with the Argonaut Meleager, the footrace and the golden apples. I say ‘often’ because, as with many Greek myths, there are different versions of Atalanta’s story. In some, she isn’t mentioned as part of the Argonaut legend at all; in others, she is the daughter of the King of Boeotia rather than Arcadia. I have read about Atalanta before, in Emily Hauser’s For the Winner, and I think overall I preferred that book which was more of a ‘reimagining’ with lots of extra little touches rather than this one which I would describe as a straightforward ‘retelling’. Still, it’s interesting to see how different authors choose to approach the same myth, what they include and leave out and how they interpret the actions and motivations of the characters.

I liked this book more than Elektra, but not as much as Ariadne. I felt that it was a bit slow to get started – the section set in the woods with the nymphs seemed to last forever – but once Atalanta joined the Argonauts on their quest it all became much more compelling. Although romance isn’t a big part of Atalanta’s story, I also enjoyed following her relationships with first Meleager and then Hippomenes and I appreciated the way Saint found a way to retell the myth from a feminist perspective without portraying all of the men in a negative light. And it’s always good to read a book about Greek mythology that doesn’t involve the Trojan War – not that it’s not interesting, but there have been so many Troy novels in the last few years I don’t think there’s really any need for any more.

This is not my favourite Jennifer Saint book, then, but it’s still an interesting read, particularly if you know nothing about Atalanta and her story. Now I’m looking forward to seeing which Greek heroine Saint will write about next.

Thanks to Headline for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

10 thoughts on “Atalanta by Jennifer Saint

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    She’s new to me – and I can’t remember her being in the 1963 ‘Jason & the Argonauts’…. [grin] I should be reading Saint’s ‘Ariadne’ some time in the next 6 weeks, and will be adding this one to my interest list. Oh, and Atalanta is such a brilliant name! The Greek’s, or in fact the Ancient’s, did have quite a talent for memorable names though!!

  2. Margaret Quiett says:

    Thank you for the heads up on Jennifer Saint’s new book, Atalanta. I too have read her Ariadne and Elektra books and enjoyed them. Looking forward to her new take on Greek myths!

    • Helen says:

      I hope you enjoy this one as much as the first two. I found it particularly interesting as Atalanta is one of the lesser known characters from Greek myth.

  3. Lark says:

    I always liked the story of Atalanta when I was a kid, but I think I only ever read about her race with the golden apples. I never read anything about her going with the Argonauts.

    • Helen says:

      There have been so many books about the Trojan War recently that I’m getting bored with them and find it much more interesting to read about less familiar myths like this one.

  4. margaret21 says:

    Coincidentally, I’ve just got this from the library (I liked the cover – I’m so shallow) without having seen your review. I’ll let you know how I get on, though it’s not top of my TBR, so give me time!

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