Mariana is convinced that Edward Fosca, the Greek tragedy professor at Cambridge, is behind the serial killings of two students. No one seems to buy her theory, even though he seems like the most culpable suspect.
He leads a secret society on campus called The Maidens. Postcards with quotes taught in his class appear amidst the victims’ belongings. So, to protect her niece Zoe from becoming a victim of Fosca’s murderous rage, Mariana takes it upon herself to prove his guilt.
The ambience set by Alex Michaelides in this 2021 release is beyond divine! He is so convincing in his portrayal of the setting that it becomes impossible to not desire a Cambridge education by the end of it (sans the secret society, of course!).
I’m only vaguely familiar with the concept of dark academia, but if this isn’t the very essence of what the genre looks like, I don’t think I’d care much for it. The writing heavily draws from gothic symbolism, with a generous scoop of visuals pertaining to dark alleys, Victorian paintings, misty terrains, and ornate architecture.
We read the story from the POV of two characters – the serial killer and Mariana. It’s interesting to read such a plot being implemented from the perspective of a group therapist (Mariana). That lends a clinical tone to some scenes, making them more jarring.
Literature is a crucial element in the book, not just cause Tennyson’s poems are referenced in some chapters but also cause it incorporates tidbits from classical literature about Greek mythology. While a few of the references were lost on me, I truly enjoyed how that aspect is merged into the plot.
While the atmosphere kept me engaged throughout, it is the last 60 pages or so that felt nail-bitingly thrilling.
I was fairly sure I knew who the culprit would be, but the ending did not pan out as I’d thought. Of all the suspicious characters (and there is a handful), I would not have guessed the motive of the serial killer.
The book ventures into dark territories with its portrayal of physical and mental abuse, self-harm, and stalking. As a group therapist, Mariana did have it difficult. There were times when I felt bad for her because of the mental and emotional strain she was under, not including the personal tragedy that she was still grieving over.
On the whole, The Maidens was one of my most anticipated reads of this year, and I’m glad that it didn’t disappoint. I’d definitely recommend it to readers with a taste for mystery fiction.
I received a copy of this book from Hachette India in exchange for an honest review.