“If you’re not aware of the transcendent, if you’re not awake to the glorious mystery
of life and death that you’re lucky enough to be part of—if that doesn’t fill you with
joy and strike you with awe… you might as well not be alive. That’s the message of the tragedies.”
‘The Maidens’ is the second book by Alex Michaelides, author of the best-seller The Silent Patient. The story revolves around an all-female secret society called ‘The Maidens’ within Cambridge University. Like its predecessor, a psychological thriller with a psychotherapist as the protagonist, this book also has a gothic element spun around Greek mythology.
Mariana Andros, a group therapist based in London, is still reeling from losing her beloved husband Sebastian, who died by drowning a year ago. She is forced to revisit Cambridge University on learning that Tara, her niece Zoe’s best friend, was found murdered there. Things take a sinister turn when she feels the handsome Professor Edward Fosca, who teaches Greek tragedy at the University, is the assassin. During her independent inquiries, she comes across ‘The Maidens’, a group of female students closely associated with the Professor, of which Tara was also a member. The murders keep happening despite valid alibis from Fosca, and things get murkier as Mariana finds clues linking the murders to Greek mythology. Soon she realises she might be endangering her very existence as she dives deeper into the abyss of secrets.
As a big fan of ‘The Silent Patient‘, I was overwhelmed at the thought of reading this book given the setting of the story. ‘The Maidens‘ can be aptly called a gothic thriller, and it has all the elements of a dark academic novel. With the eerie Professor Fosca at the centre surrounded by the secret group of female students who owe their allegiance to him, the magnificent campus and Greek mythology is all wonderfully woven into the setting, taking the reader through a fantastic experience.
Greek tragedies have always been intriguing, and this is no exception. It starts slow, introducing us to the protagonist, Marian. We read about her struggles and background, steadily moving into the main substance. We learn about the beautiful relationship between her and her late husband and understand the importance of the character Zoe. Fosca and the maidens have been brilliantly portrayed.
However, despite the plot and narration, I felt ‘The Maidens’ fell short regarding the twists and the ending. Not that it wasn’t thrilling, but somehow there were too many loose threads, especially when it came to the other characters. Of particular note would be the Chief Investigating Officer and his team, who appeared rather gawky and inept. In the end, it felt like the author could have worked on his supporting cast a little more.
I also felt that the secret society of The Maidens could have been implored further in layers as opposed to the relatively shallow portrayal.
The end was unexpected, and the red herrings ensured the same, but after finishing the book, I felt a sense of dissatisfaction in contrast to the author’s debut novel. Honestly, I also think that it was largely due to the high bar of expectations set by its predecessor. Had ‘The Maidens’ been his first venture, I am sure it would have been appreciated more.
Fun fact: Theo Faber, the protagonist of ‘The Silent Patient’, makes a brief cameo in a chapter!
Alex Michaelides is a bestselling British-Cypriot author and a screenwriter known for movies such as The Devil You Know (2013) and The Con is On(2018). He has an M.A. in English Literature from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and an M.A. in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.
2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Maidens”
Thanks for an honest and detailed review, Danie. Appreciate it.
Glad that you liked it.
Hope you enjoy the book as well!