The Maidens by Alex Michaelides #BookReview #BlogTour

 

St Christopher’s College, Cambridge, is a closed world to most.

For Mariana Andros – a group therapist struggling through her private grief – it’s where she met her late husband. For her niece, Zoe, it’s the tragic scene of her best friend’s murder.

As memory and mystery entangle Mariana, she finds a society full of secrets, which has been shocked to its core by the murder of one of its own.

Because behind its idyllic beauty is a web of jealousy and rage which emanates from an exclusive set of students known only as The Maidens. A group under the sinister influence of the enigmatic professor Edward Fosca.

A man who seems to know more than anyone about the murders – and the victims. And the man who will become the prime suspect in Mariana’s investigation – an obsession which will unravel everything…

The Maidens is a story of love, and of grief – of what makes us who we are, and what makes us kill.

I'm delighted to be hosting the blog tour for The Maidens today. Many thanks to Alex Michaelides, Weidenfeld & Nicolson for my advance copy of the novel and to Anne Cater for inviting me onto the blog tour.

As with Alex Michaelides' first book, the phenomenally successful The Silent Patient, the main character in The Maidens is a psychotherapist. Mariana Andros has her own struggles however, as she is still grieving the tragic loss of her husband, Sebastian, a year ago.
At the start of the novel, she is trying - and failing - to sort through his possessions, her grief so all-consuming, she wishes she could cocoon herself away in the house they once shared. Then she receives a tearful phone call from her niece, Zoe in Cambridge; a body has been discovered and her friend, Tara is missing. Zoe needs her there but for Mariana, this is also an emotional journey back to her past as this is where she and Sebastian first met. From the very beginning of the book, there are intriguing juxtapositions between the group and the individual, with group therapist Mariana often the lone figure. It was Sebastian who brought the solitary, lonely young woman into the light but now he is beyond the veil, she has to confront her ghosts from the past, responding to a plea from her former professor who suggests that her level of insight into group psychology and her understanding of the campus exceeds that of the police.
Her suspicion falls on charismatic professor, Edward Fosca, an American who dazzles his students - and indeed Mariana herself, in spite of her mistrust of him. Driven by Mariana's suspicions of Fosca, who appears to wield a Svengali-like hold over an exclusive group of female students, known as The Maidens, this intricately plotted tale piercingly explores dark obsession and manipulation. The cloistered, claustrophobic atmosphere, with its secret groups and haunting memories mean The Maidens is a rather gothic mystery despite its contemporary setting and connections to classical Greek culture and mythology. There's an evocative sense of place which ensures the fictional St Christopher's College feels entirely authentic but notwithstanding the undeniable beauty of the location, a sinister malevolence permeates every scene. Mariana's investigation means she increasingly puts herself in danger and there's a pervading undercurrent of tension as it becomes progressively more apparent that she is being watched. 
The often ominous ties to Ancient and Classical Greece are richly symbolic, weaving an intense story of loss and longing amidst the disturbing rising body count. Alongside the main narrative, there are first-person chapters from an unknown source which appear to be unnervingly confessional; the relationship between parents and their children is a recurrent theme and these vignettes hint that the truth is frustratingly just out of reach. 
Fans of The Silent Patient will enjoy a significant cameo from one of its characters but as much as I enjoyed that book, I think this one is even better. Although The Maidens is a slow-burning mystery for the most part, I found it utterly consuming, with its compelling examination of grief and jealousy as gripping as Mariana's tenacious search for the truth. The pace does pick up in the latter chapters of the novel with a stunning conclusion that made me want to go back to the start to see if I'd missed any clues.
A thriller that so deftly combines perceptive characterisation, Greek tragedy and murder, wrapping it all up in a stylish, intelligent plot that kept me glued to the pages means The Maidens is one of my books of the year. I absolutely adored it! 

The Maidens was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on 10th June 2021, purchasing links can be found here but please consider supporting independent bookshops whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.


About the Author
Alex Michaelides was born and raised in Cyprus. He has an MA in English Literature from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and an MA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. The Silent Patient was his first novel, and was the biggest selling debut in the world in 2019. It spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list and sold in a record-breaking 50 countries. Alex lives in London.

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