Has Alex Michaelides Come Back With a Bang?

'The Maidens' on a cluttered desk, with an open notebook, a laptop, and other books around. The cover is black with gold writing and a plaster bust in the centre.

So I just read The Maidens by Alex Michaelides, whose debut The Silent Patient was an international bestseller. I received a copy of The Maidens from the publishers, but all my thoughts that I will be sharing today are entirely my own and in no way influenced by others.

For your consideration, here is what Goodreads describes it as:

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.

Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?

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.

Immediate Response After Reading It

I certainly enjoyed this book. It had a cool whodunit vibe throughout that I was simply thriving in.

I also liked the deeply psychological take on a dark academia novel and it was really refreshing compared to the usual books you get to read in this category.

As for the pacing, it was really readable and I just glided through it. Oftentimes, books of this genre can become repetitive and predictable. But it wasn’t so, in this book.

I really liked it and rated it 4/5 stars. I also filmed a reading vlog about it which you can check out here.

‘The Maidens’ Reading Vlog.

Is ‘The Maidens’ a Dark Academia novel?

Yes. But it is also much more than that.

Firstly, I just have to address that this is not a typical dark academia novel. And let me tell you how.

Unlike other DA novels, this one does not follow a student who is in the middle of the action, or as a dark academic would say, in medias res. Rather, in The Maidens, we follow an outsider. Mariana is a group therapist and she visits Cambridge to support her niece when her classmate and best friend is murdered. So you see, we are not immediately thrust into an academic atmosphere. This is the first place where this novel diverges from the genre.

And this is also the reason why this novel gives the reader much more breathing space than other DA works. We do not yet know the world. We come to know of it through an outsider’s eyes, who, coincidentally, was once an insider. And therefore, getting to re-enter this world comes with multi-layered observations that we as readers only benefit from.

Another fact that adds yet another level of understanding to this novel is that she is a psychology professional. As such, her insight on things, on characters, and on the events, make us also expand our understanding of her.

I did come across some reviews stating how The Maidens was not truly dark academia, but I disagree. It is simply different and has a thriller take on dark academia. I like to this of it as adult dark academia where the scope of the world is much wider than the four walls of the educational institution. 

It is a dark academia novel, yes, but it is also a thriller novel and so we have to think of it on the basis of the amalgamation of these two aspects. Ignoring one to categorize this book in strict boxes, won’t make it an all-encompassing read.

My Grievances with ‘The Maidens’

Despite the fact that I did like the book, I also have a few complaints about it.

Our protagonist is Mariana. And like I mentioned before, she is a group therapist but she is dealing with a loss of her own. What I thought was kind of weird and improbable was how all the male characters were attracted to her. It really signalled the ‘i am not like other girls’ trope which, to be fair, is overrated and unfair. It felt a lot like that, the way these men were all drawn towards her.

My other complaints — well, I will try to wrap them up in one sentence each, in order to avoid giving spoilers. I thought the Greek mythology aspect did not have much relevance to the actual story. The backstories of some of the characters were also too similar, to the point that it seemed like the author took an easy route.

Favourite Quotes From ‘The Maidens’

I am also sharing some of my favourite quotes from the book, which while really enhancing the reader’s understanding of the book, also have such immense depth on their own.

“My argument with so much of psychoanalysis is the preconception that suffering is a mistake, or a sign of weakness, or a sign even of illness. When in fact, possibly the greatest truths we know have come out of people’s suffering. — ARTHUR MILLER”

From a psychological viewpoint, this just made so much sense. Even though now I can say it is an obvious thing, it was so enlightening to come across.

“Mariana no longer saw the world in color. Life was muted and gray and far away, behind a veil — behind a mist of sadness.”

Loss is an important underlying theme throughout this book and I think that this quote really reflects that well — how loss affects us.

“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.”

Another quote that I believe really encompasses and shines forth the real ideals of dark academia — living life to the fullest and enjoying it, partaking in all the emotions of life, and participating in it.

“She sometimes felt she had been cursed, as if by some malevolent goddess in a Greek myth, to lose everyone she ever loved.”

Lastly, this, because we cannot really have dark academia without some Greek gods and goddesses brought into the picture!

And that is it, my fellow readers. If you have read this book and have an opinion (similar or contrary), do share because I would love to know your perspective. If you haven’t read the book, I hope I have convinced you to pick it up and give it a chance.

Nayanika Saikia graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and was also a Dean’s List student. She is currently pursuing her Master’s degree and is also a Booktuber and Bookstagrammer. She can often be found on her Instagram account Pretty Little Bibliophile. You can support her by Buying Her a Coffee. To get regular updates and amazing content, sign up for her newsletter!

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