Book Reviews

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides – Book Review

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides Book Cover

Warning – possible spoilers! (Tiny ones, though, and I’ll try to avoid even those; I swear I’ll give my best not to ruin it for you… :-))

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides – Book Details

TITLE – The Maidens

AUTHOR – Alex Michaelides

GENREmystery, thriller, dark academia



MY RATING – 2.5 of 5


What It Is About

Edward Fosca was a murderer.
This was a fact. This wasn’t something Mariana knew just on an intellectual level, as an idea. Her body knew it. She felt it in her bones, along her blood, and deep within every cell.
Edward Fosca was guilty.

Mariana Andros is a former Cambridge student, today a successful group therapist, who is still recovering from the loss of her husband a year ago. Her monotonous life is temporarily interrupted when her niece Zoe calls her and tells her Zoe’s best friend Tara has been murdered.

Zoe currently studies at Cambridge, which is where the murder happened. To console her, Mariana goes back to her old university. And soon after she arrives, she develops a theory about what happened to Zoe’s friend.

Because Tara had confessed to Zoe a professor had threatened to kill her. And now Zoe seems to be afraid of the Greek Tragedy professor Edward Fosca.

Plus, how come the only alibi Fosca has comes from a group of girls weirdly obsessed with him, his own secret society known as The Maidens? And isn’t it weird he’s obsessed with the myth and rituals that were supposed to take a man to the border of the underworld?

There’s only one explanation that answers all these questions, right? And Mariana is determined to put Edward Fosca to justice.

Even when another body appears on the campus. And there are indications that Mariana’s own life might be in danger.

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides – My Review

A monster with a knife was among them, unseen, prowling the streets, apparently able to strike and then melt away invisibly into the darkness… His invisibility made him into something more than human, something supernatural: a creature born from myth, a phantom.

Oh, boy. Well – this could have been better. I was weirdly torn between being annoyed and being quite entertained by this book. But in the end, the annoyance won. By quite a bit.

Dark academia always gets me. It is so – my thing. You know? My aesthetic. It has so many things I love combined in one place. So I’m always actively searching for new releases that fall into this category, and The Maidens seemed to be a perfect fit.

The moment I saw that cover, read the description and saw what the author’s previous work was, I knew I’d be reading this book no matter what. I expected it to be intense. I expected it to be brilliant. Hoped it would be mind challenging, engaging and unforgettable.

Which – ok, I was probably bound for disappointment in any case. But for a second there, I really thought we were getting it all.

I feel in control now, writing this. At this moment in time, I am calm, and sane.
But there is more than one of me.

I did get one or two things I was hoping for. The setting. It was beautiful. It was atmospheric. Rich in history. Exclusive and enigmatic.

And the academic part of this book was probably the best part. Ever present but never overwhelming. The quotes. The Fosca’s lecture. The small discussions about Greek myths, or literature, or psychology.

Also, just the premise was enough to put me on the edge of my seat. There’s a string of murders going on at Cambridge. A theatrical, charming but creepy professor obsessed with the myth of Persephone and the people who tried to reach the edge of death. A cult-like group of beautiful female students who are following him around, obsessed with every word that comes out of his mouth.

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. Participate in the wonder. For your sake […] -live it.

So much potential… Wasted, unfortunately. Because instead of exploring these more than interesting topics, we were following a – let’s face it – dumb and unprofessional group therapist who decides she can solve the murder better than anyone else.

Which, granted, probably – maybe – possibly had been done deliberately and that was the whole point of the story. Except that – even if that was the point, I don’t think I really liked it and I didn’t find it particularly interesting.

‘It was written’ is the Greek expression. Meaning, quite simply, from that moment on, their destinies were sealed.

Mariana was definitely my biggest problem with this book. She annoyed me to no end. I didn’t think she was a good protagonist, and I didn’t trust her judgment at all.

She kept making dumb decisions and drawing conclusions out of nowhere and justifying it with her experience as a group therapist combined with her gut feeling. But the thing is – not for a second did I think her instincts should be trusted.

The ridiculous jumping to conclusions made her seem very unprofessional. Her chase after Professor Fosca felt like a house of cards. Took a lot of effort to construct, yet it was so obviously easy to blow away.

She just decided to target this man. Who’s a creep, no doubt about that. But don’t you usually need a bit firmer proof before categorizing someone as a murderer? Before going around and telling everyone you know he did it? You just know.

And if the police weren’t going to pursue him, then perhaps Mariana – as a debt of honor to Zoe’s friend – could listen to this young woman’s story … and take her seriously.
If only because no one else did.

On a few occasions other characters said to her something like – you are a very intelligent woman, and such a good therapist… And every time I would think – is she, though? Is she really? What exactly made you think that?

I’m not even going to mention here all the dumb decisions this woman has made. I don’t have time to do it, and you don’t have time to read it.

But the thing is – it wasn’t just Mariana. This book was full of should-be-really-smart people who could have done something to limit the tragedy. But nope.

Instead, we have police who don’t take witnesses seriously. We have Cambridge Dean and professors, and none of them says – hmm, this Fosca guy does seem pretty weird. Maybe we should take a closer look at what’s going on in his secret meetings. Maybe we should remove him from campus, at least for a little while. At least to see if the murders would stop.

Mariana couldn’t help but feel a little skeptical – her background in group theory told her, as a rule, to be suspicious of any group in love with a teacher; those situations rarely ended well.

Plus, the whole story felt just a tad too dramatic to feel genuine. Which is not exactly untypical for dark academia, but there’s good dramatic and bad dramatic. And this one wasn’t exactly great.

There was something amateurish about the storytelling. It fell short of convincing. Inconsistencies in characters’ behavior. And lots of small things I wish had been edited out.

The world no longer felt muted and grey and far away – behind a veil. It felt alive again, and vivid, and full of colour, wet with autumn rain; and vibrating with the eternal hum of endless birth and death.

The ending – I mean. You know. I have questions.

Honestly, I’m still not sure what to make of it. On one hand, the way the story ended, it had a weirdly satisfying note to it. On the other hand, I didn’t feel like I got a conclusion to the story I’d been reading the whole time.

It was probably the most satisfyingly unsatisfying ending I’ve ever read.

All in all, I am giving The Maidens 2.5 stars, as it was below the average for me. It’s just that – I expected so much from it. I really thought I was going to love it, and that it even might end up amongst my favorites, like The Silent Patient did.

I would still be willing to check out whatever Alex Michaelides comes up with next. The guy has a storyteller in him, I’m sure he still has a lot to offer to the thriller genre.

P.S. I just saw he is publishing a new thriller, The Fury, in early 2024. Fingers crossed we love it!

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