Exclusive Cover Reveal + Q&A: Atalanta Is Jenny Saint's Latest Greek Mythology Retelling

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Exclusive Cover Reveal + Q&A: <i>Atalanta</i> Is Jenny Saint's Latest Greek Mythology Retelling

Author Jenny Saint has been at the forefront of the (very welcome) recent publishing trend aimed at reevaluating and reassessing some of Western literature’s most famous foundational myths through a distinctly female lens. Her previous novels Ariadne and Elektra both explored the stories of famous fictional women whose tales are generally subsumed into those of the men in their lives, and her next book, titled Atalanta aims to reintroduce modern audiences to a heroine that many likely have never heard of at all.

The only woman to join Jason’s famous Argonauts but one of the few members whose presence in that famous adventure is largely ignored by subsequent legends and retellings, Atalanta isn’t the sort of instantly recognizable figure to readers that characters like Ariadne, Elektra, Clytemnestra, or Cassandra are. But Saint aims to change all that with Atalanta, giving her heroine the same sort of epic adventure that the men around her have long been remembered (and praised) for.

Here’s how the publisher describes the story.

When Atalanta, a daughter, is born to the King of Arcadia, she brings only disappointment. Left on a mountainside to die, she is rescued by a mother bear and raised amongst cubs under the protective eye of the goddess Artemis, who teaches her to survive and hunt. Artemis warns Atalanta to stay away from men—if she marries, it will be her undoing.

Determined to prove her worth as equal to that of the heroes her father had hoped for, Atalanta leaves her forest to fight alongside Jason’s band of Argonauts. Then in defiance of Artemis’ warning, she embarks on an affair, only to be met with tragedy.

When her father finally acknowledges her and pressures her to marry, Atalanta insists any successful suitor must beat her in a footrace to win her hand—and defeats hopeful contenders one by one. But can she carve out her own legendary place in a world made for men?

Though Atalanta won’t officially hit shelves until May 2, 2023, we’re thrilled to be able to exclusively reveal the novel’s (extremely gorgeous!) cover for you all right now.

Atalanta Full Cover

We even had the chance to chat with Saint herself and get a brief preview of Atalanta’s story and what drew her to this particular myth in the first place. Read on to find out more about what to expect from Atalanta!

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Paste Magazine: You’ve written books about Ariadne and Elektra—-why focus on Atalanta for this third novel—-who is a much less well-known mythological figure than your other heroines are. What made you want to tell her story?

Jenny Saint: Atalanta appealed to me as a pretty elusive figure in Greek mythology – she’s a brilliant heroine with really intriguing and unusual mythology, but she isn’t as immediately recognizable a name to a lot of people the way that my other protagonists are. She started out for me as the voice of a short story, but that led me to research her in more depth and the more I learned about her, the more I was sure that readers would enjoy discovering her just as much as I did.

The story of a baby left exposed in the wild who miraculously survives is a classic trope of fairy tales and legends and it’s such an exhilarating starting point, especially when the child is a girl who then gets to grow up outside the confines of society without the restrictions and expectations she would otherwise live within. It gives her a freedom and a liberation that makes her story totally different and unique. A lot of Greek mythology is tragic and I’m always drawn to its darkness but I did want to showcase a more joyful side to it with this novel—a story that’s full of adventure, rooted in nature, and led by a strong female character who can hold her own against any famous mythical hero.

Paste: Since there’s relatively little information about this book out there at the moment, can you summarize its story and/or themes a bit for our readers?

Saint: When Atalanta is born to a king of Arcadia, she disappoints her father who only wants a son. Left exposed on a mountainside to die, she is rescued by a passing mother bear and grows up under the watchful eye of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, in the wild heart of the forest.

Determined to prove her worth, she joins Jason and his Argonauts on their quest for the Golden Fleece. She’s intent on carving out her place in the legends, but soon learns to question everything she believes about heroism as she searches for a way to define her own destiny in a world dominated by men.

Paste: There are at least two different versions of Atalanta in Greek mythology—how did you go about sort of deciding which ‘path” to follow and paring down to the essence of who your version of her would be?

Saint: It seems like Atalanta might well have originally been two completely separate heroines of mythology—two fierce women with the same name and a number of similarities that saw their stories merge together into one. Both showed great physical prowess – one an exceptional huntress and the other an unbeatable runner. She is born in either Arcadia or Boetia to different sets of parents and she appears in myths where famous heroes come together in a quest, such as the Argonauts and the hunters of the Calydonian Boar.

The list of Argonauts varies wildly between different ancient writers, however, and Atalanta is often missed out—for example, in the Argonautica we are told that she asks to join but is refused by Jason in case the presence of a woman is disruptive to the men (instead, she gives Jason a spear to take in her place!) I chose to follow the tradition of merging the two Atalantas to encompass as many of her stories as I could, and for the section of the novel that takes her in pursuit of the Golden Fleece, I used the Argonautica but told it with the twist that all the adventures are seen through the eyes of a woman who wasn’t supposed to be there.

It gave me a freedom to reinterpret the myth and explore how it could have happened if this powerful, fleet-footed huntress had been among them. Piecing together Atalanta’s life was complicated, but what shone through all the versions of her that I could find was how fearless and independent she was. The name Atalanta means ‘equal in strength’— i.e. she is just as strong as any man, and I wanted a heroine of Greek myth to have the chance to have the same kind of adventures as the heroes have.

Paste: What other familiar figures from mythology might we expect to see pop up in this story? I know Atalanta was the only woman to join Jason’s Argonauts and she fought with them at one point. (Yes, this is my roundabout way of asking if we’re going to meet Medea.)

Saint: There is quite the ensemble cast of familiar faces of Greek myth in Atalanta’s story! The quest for the Golden Fleece brought an array of famous names together—Heracles is among the Argonauts; Orpheus accompanies them as the musician on board, Castor and Polydeuces (brothers of Helen and Clytemnestra) are there as is Peleus (father of Achilles). Their journey brings them to Aeetes, the sorcerer king of Colchis and brother of Circe, and yes – his daughter, Medea! I’m sorry to say that everyone’s least favorite hero, Theseus, makes an appearance too. The legendary queen of Lemnos, Hypsipyle, features en route, and the goddess Artemis is a major character and important influence on Atalanta’s life. There are more characters that lovers of Greek myth will recognize as well.

Bringing Medea into the story was one of the parts I found most challenging—she’s such a powerful character and so pivotal to the success of the Argonauts that it could have been easy to let her completely overwhelm the novel at one part. It was very interesting to view her through Atalanta’s eyes and to draw out some of the ways in which these two very compelling women connect with one another along with the differences that separate them.

Paste: What do you think people will be most surprised to learn about this particular mythological figure and her story?

Saint: I think what might surprise people the most is how her story bumps up against so many famous characters, objects, and events from Greek mythology—but while most people have heard of Jason, Heracles, the Argo and the Golden Apples of the Hesperides (which pop up in other myths, most notably in helping to spark the Trojan War!), relatively few have heard of Atalanta at all. I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to bring her to the forefront and to introduce her to readers who haven’t had the chance to get to know her until now.

Atalanta will be released on May 2, 2023.



Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.