Book Review: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

Thanks to Celadon Books, who provided an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Okay thriller fans, buckle up, because it’s time to discuss what I’m going to argue is the most anticipated psychological thriller of 2021: Alex Michaelides’s newest novel, The Maidens

It’s very likely you’ve seen the dark, romantic cover on your Instagram feed, and with good reason. It is a beautiful and incredibly enticing cover. It’s both brooding and striking, and the title immediately has you wondering, “Okay, but WHO ARE THE MAIDENS? And what grisly thing happens to them?” I’m not about to tell you, because this isn’t a spoiler review (and if I’m going to talk about spoiler-y things, expect a warning in advance). However, I am going to pummel you with thoughts and opinions, so GET READY. 

Brief Summary

Mariana is a widow who works in London as a group therapist. She’s still grieving the loss of her husband, Christopher, who she met and fell in love with at Cambridge University. When her niece, Zoe, calls frantically over a recent murder near the campus, Mariana rushes to her aid. 

As she becomes further embedded in the drama that is this story, Mariana learns that Zoe’s best friend, Tara, was involved in a prestigious club called The Maidens, the best and most-favored of Professor Edward Fosca. To Mariana, there seems to be something highly nefarious going on within this group, a suspicion that is only aided when more and more of the girls begin to disappear…

Review

This book is an English Major’s DREAM. It uses the conceit of Greek Romantic Tragedies in a way that is wholly consuming and effective; the goddesses Persephone and Demeter are intrinsic to the story, and the arts are heavily discussed. Mariana, the main character, spent her entire childhood in Greece, and this motif just comes up over and over and OVER again (but not in a bad way, you know how I love a good repeating idea). 

In true thriller fashion, you’re following multiple suspects at once. At one point in my reading, I was like, “Wait, did all five of the people I’m suspecting do it because I’m equally convinced that each of them is to blame.” Lol. The reveal does pay off, for me, in the end; I will say, however, that it isn’t a FUN reveal. It makes you sad, but it’s also moderately surprising. There were parts of the ending that I predicted, but not to a strong enough degree that I was dissatisfied in the ending.

Paranoia is another theme, and while I do like an unreliable narrator, I didn’t find Mariana to be a particularly likable character. She kept making decisions that just seemed incredibly foolish, and while I wanted to see how they turned out for her (of course, obviously) I can’t say that I actually appreciated or enjoyed her. BUT, that’s probably just me.

What I Loved: 

Michaelides is creating a universe within his books, and I LOVE THAT. Some of the characters (and even settings!) from his first book, The Silent Patient, reappear in this novel. Though they’re just hinted at, it was enough of a nod that I grinned through that whole aspect of the storyline. I love it when authors do that, and I think that it will give many readers a little happy jolt of understanding as they read. 

I am a sucker for dysfunctional families, teenage menaces, campus novels, and secret/private societies. This book had ALL of those things, and I couldn’t have enjoyed that part more. In terms of a sensitive readership, I don’t actually think this would be too far for most readers to handle. There are terrible things happening, yes, and that element of darkness definitely permeates every single aspect of the story; still, I think there are a lot of things about it that just feel like a good old-fashioned psychological thriller trip. 

Lastly, I just finished The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller last month, and the continuing theme of Greek Mythology in my recent reads has been really fun. My Google search history is full of the names of Greek gods and goddesses, and the content of this story just continued that research habit. 

Who Would Love This: 

As I have used the genre descriptor four million times by now, people who love mysteries and thrillers will love this book. It’s really well done. For me, I was comparing it to The Silent Patient the entire time (I always do that, though, when I’m reading something from an author I’ve already encountered), and I didn’t love it *quite* as much. It also didn’t leave me reeling in quite the same way that one did; still, if you loved that book, I think you’ll love this one. 

As a campus novel, this does not disappoint. Cambridge is such a major part of the story that it could basically be considered a character, for goodness’ sake. The setting is rich and evocative; I think readers who appreciate a good descriptive location will appreciate that. 

To be more specific: if you read The Girls by Emma Cline when it came out a few years ago, I think this could be a surprisingly good read for you! They’re set in completely different locations and time periods, but the heart of the novel is the same: young girls getting into trouble. Am I the only one whose mother had her watching The Skulls when she was a young child? Well, if there is anyone in the universe who also watched that movie about a secret society in the Ivy Leagues, this could be a really fun book for you to pick up. 

Star Review

Drum roll, please.

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✪✪✪✪/✪✪✪✪✪

Recommendations

I try not to use this term, because I think it’s overused in literary circles, but this novel is compulsively readable; I think it’ll do very well for itself.

So.

If you are someone who:

  • loves campus novels
  • appreciates reading about mean girls, cliques, clubs, or secret societies
  • likes books that FEEL literary in nature, but don’t necessarily have the heaviness of a literary novel
  • can’t get enough of some thrilling action
  • don’t mind when your protagonists make really questionable decisions
  • have been impatiently waiting for Alex Michaelides’s next book to come out
  • have a soft spot for Greek literary elements

this could be a fantastic book for you!

Until next time, happy reading!

And preorder The Maidens wherever books are sold!

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