Labyrinth, by Alex Beecroft
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Release Date: November 21, 2016
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Kikeru, the child of a priestess at the sacred temple of Knossos in ancient Crete, believes that the goddesses are laughing at him. They expect him to choose whether he is a man or a woman, when he’s both. They expect him to choose whether to be a husband to a wife, or a celibate priestess in the temple, when all he wants to do is invent things and be with the person he loves.
Unfortunately, that person is Rusa, the handsome ship owner who is most decidedly a man and therefore off-limits no matter what he chooses. And did he mention that the goddesses also expect him to avert war with the Greeks?
The Greeks have an army. Kikeru has his mother, Maja, who is pressuring him to give her grandchildren; Jadikira, Rusa’s pregnant daughter; and superstitious Rusa, who is terrified of what the goddesses will think of him being in love with one of their chosen ones.
It’s a tall order to save Crete from conquest, win his love, and keep both halves of himself. Luckily, at least the daemons are on his side.
Asexual and Aromantic Secondary Characters
Historical (Ancient Greece)
Attempted Sexual Assault
Ritualised Drug Use
I’ve been ridiculously excited to read this novella since it was announced, as a former Classics student and devoted mythology geek, revisionist interpretations of myth are like catnip to me. I was especially intrigued by this story as it’s set in the lesser known Minoan culture, a Bronze Age civilisation that predates what many people think of when they imagine Ancient Greece, from the neighbouring island of Crete, which we know very little about but what information we do have is fascinating. With their matriarchal hierarchy, mercantile acumen, distinctive religious practices and still untranslated Linear A alphabet, they were an thriving cultural hub of Mediterranean life until their decline from around 1400 BCE, and if you’re at all curious I definitely recommend learning more about them.
One of the most important, certainly the most famous, things we know about the Minoans is the myth of Daedalus and Icarus, and of the minotaur that lives in the palace at the heart of the labyrinth. Alex Beecroft’s version is told from the Minoan POV, and is a clever interpretation that uses several authentic aspects of their religion to create a believable solution to remove the Greek threat to their home. I liked this younger version of Daedalus, the ‘cunning artificer’ of legend a lot – but then, I have an extreme weakness for absent minded, insatiably curious inventors, and Kikeru certainly fits this trope beautifully. I also read them as dyspraxic, which may not have been the author’s intent but as I am as well I’ll happily take all the representation I can get. 😉 Rusa seemed at first to be a stereotypical alpha, which is a cliché I dislike but his protectiveness was sweet rather than overtly controlling, and I thought they were cute together. The other characters are mostly present to further the plot along, but Rusa’s daughter was fun and although Kikeru’s mother Maja was basically a mouthpiece for exposition (a suitable role for a priestess and embodiment of the Goddesses will on earth) she never felt like an awkward addition to any scenes.
The main issue I had within the narrative was how Kikeru’s struggles with gender identity and presentation often became the central focus, rather than supposed actual plot to protect Crete and defeat an imminent invasion. I didn’t actually mind very much, however, as this threat came at the point when he is being forced to make a decision which will affect the rest of his life, so it made sense to me that even while important events are happening around him, he’d be unable to set this aside, especially as it’s established early on he’s a naturally self-absorbed (but not selfish) person, forever creating things in his mind and living inside his head.
I feel I should also mention that although Kikeru would not have the word to describe himself, he is expressly written as nonbinary, potentially genderfluid, acknowledged as such in the dedication and written by a nonbinary author, and not intended to be read as a trans woman, as I have seen mentioned elsewhere. (Kikeru uses male and female pronouns, but mostly refers to himself as ‘he’, which is why continue to use it here.) I can’t comment on the accuracy of this portrayal – there was a bit of wandering pronoun syndrome where I occasionally couldn’t tell if it was intentional or an editing mistake, and would have preferred if the ones used remained relevant to how Kikeru wished to be referred to at the time – but much of Kikeru’s internal dialogue felt familiar as things my NB partner has said to me, and I hope that NB readers will find it to be a sympathetic one.
There were a lot of little touches I appreciated while reading, like Kikeru’s investigative mind always trying to decipher how things work, be they technological or biological (and quite frankly I could have done with even more science-based shenanigans), the way differences between the Minoans and Achaeans are illustrated, especially via gender, and appropriately florid language for a heightened, mythologically inspired setting, and while I do think the driving force of the plot could have been stronger, overall Labyrinth is certainly an enjoyable novella and a worthy offering to the storytelling gods.
Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years.Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist.
Alex is only intermittently present in the real world.She has lead a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.
Alex writes queer romance – that is, her main characters are typically gay, bisexual, transgender, pansexual or asexual men. Best known for historicals, she also writes Fantasy/SF and contemporary romance.
You can find her online at http://alexbeecroft.com/
You can purchase Labyrinth from:
Amazon (not yet available)
Barnes & Noble
I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.