I’m a simple reader. When I see a dark academia book, I know I have to read it. I’m rather fond of the aesthetic of pretentious scholars and their often tragic pursuit of knowledge. Classics and philosophy, moral ambiguity and murder—they go together well.
Donna Tartt’s The Secret History can be considered the pioneer of this sub-genre, and surely enough it’s one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read despite its flaws. I’m always searching for new books in the same vein but they’re few and far between, so when I stumbled upon The Maidens, I was elated by the similar themes. However, my expectations may have been a little too high. While I loved the concept of a secret society with ties to Greek mythology and a murder mystery set in an atmospheric, illustrious university, the execution left me wanting more.
The Maidens by Alex Michaelides is a psychological thriller that follows a psychotherapist who returns to Cambridge, her alma mater, when her niece’s friend murdered. Mariana is there to comfort her niece, but there’s something troubling about the seemingly idyllic campus, and soon, the murder case becomes an obsession. She’s certain the charismatic Greek Tragedy professor is the killer, and she’s willing to risk everything to prove it.
❝After all, everyone’s entitled to be the hero of their own story. So I must be permitted to be the hero of mine. Even though I’m not. I’m the villain.❞
The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
I loved the concept of the story. There’s a secret society called The Maidens made up of a special group of female students. One member is brutally murdered, and then not long after, another body is found. There’s something sinister hiding beneath the surface of such a prestigious university. Throw in a psychotherapist who becomes fixated on unraveling the secrets of this cult-like group and we have a great set up for a murder mystery—an incredibly atmospheric one. It’s dark and creepy; with so much tension and suspense brimming from every page.
The bountiful Greek tragedies woven into the story was a delight. I love ancient mythos and the tale of Persephone is one of my favorites. It’s referenced throughout the book, and it’s symbolic to Mariana’s journey as well. The goddess Persephone was often referred to as Kore, an epithet that translates to ‘the maiden’. It was her original name before she became the queen of the underworld.
What didn’t work for me:
The main character just wasn’t very interesting to me. She’s supposedly a brilliant therapist but she makes so many questionable decisions throughout the book and seems to only be dictated by emotions. She wasn’t exactly qualified to be involved in a murder case. Not to mention the conflict of interest in the investigation. There was definitely some missing logic and I couldn’t help but feel exasperated. I don’t mind reading about frustrating characters or even unlikable ones, as long as they’re compelling, but Mariana was lacking in that department.
Another thing was the ending, which I won’t spoil, but I was disappointed. I had a vague suspicion so I wasn’t completely caught off guard by the big reveal. I just found it to be unsatisfying.
The Maidens is a fast-paced, highly atmospheric psychological thriller with a darkly alluring concept but a weak execution. I didn’t love it nor did I hate it, and I wasn’t very impressed either. I’d recommend it with caution. If you like mystery thrillers with themes of Greek mythology, then give this one a try, but don’t expect the depth of The Secret History.
Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.
Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.
When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.