Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff
Series: The Red Abbey Chronicles #1
Publication: January 14th 2016 by Pushkin Press
Format: Paperback Pages: 253
Maresi came to the Red Abbey when she was thirteen, in the Hunger Winter. Before then, she had only heard rumours of its existence in secret folk tales. In a world where girls aren’t allowed to learn or do as they please, an island inhabited solely by women sounded like a fantasy. But now Maresi is here, and she knows it is real. She is safe.
Then one day Jai tangled fair hair, clothes stiff with dirt, scars on her back arrives on a ship. She has fled to the island to escape terrible danger and unimaginable cruelty. And the men who hurt her will stop at nothing to find her.
Now the women and girls of the Red Abbey must use all their powers and ancient knowledge to combat the forces
that wish to destroy them. And Maresi, haunted by her own nightmares, must confront her very deepest, darkest fears.
A story of friendship and survival, magic and wonder, beauty and terror, Maresi will grip you and hold you spellbound. – Goodreads.
I loved loved loved Maresi as soon as I started reading it because the protagonist is so damn loveable. Maresi is told from the first-person perspective of little ball of fluff, Maresi, a young girl living at the Red Abbey, which is a female-only island. Male merchants are allowed near the island if they are delivering goods or if they are buying goods produced by the sisters, but they never actually come onto the island to do this. One day, a girl called Jai arrives on the island, and this is where Maresi begins her story.
Maresi is funny, she’s food and book obsessed, and she’s a chatterbox. The girl loves asking questions. She also has her shortfalls, for example, Maresi starts off being a little selfish about knowledge, she seems to want to keep it all to herself and delights keeping the library her secret instead of sharing it with the other girls. However, she also shows herself to be kind, generous and patient in her interactions with Jai.
‘“We were looking forward to Moon Dance and the wonderful celebration feast afterward. At night I dreamed about pies and koan eggs.”’
Jai has a disturbing background and comes to the Abbey having witnessed something horrific and scarring, soon after her arrival, the Abbey comes under threat by people from Jai’s past, and the sanctuary becomes dangerous. I felt bad for Jai and everything she went through, but I didn’t connect with her character and I thought the whole effort the people from her past went through just to get to her was a little ‘meh’.
The friendships between all of the sisters at the Abbey are genuine and loving, no undercurrent of spitefulness at all. The Abbey is a place where women thrive and they are celebrated. The mythology is fascinating, the sisters believe in teachings of the First Mother who has three forms/aspects (Maiden, Mother, Crone), and they refer to themselves as servants of the First Mother. Despite the focus on women, their protection, nourishment and education, the idea behind the Abbey is not to hate men. The Abbey does not exist to permanently shelter women from the outside world and to isolate them from men. The Abbey was made by the First Sisters who had fled from a world where an evil man had taken over and refused to let anyone be educated because he wanted all of the knowledge for himself. The Abbey was created to provide a safe haven for women (who were treated as second class citizens everywhere else), and to educate them so that once their education was complete, they could return to the world outside the Abbey and share their knowledge. There is more to the story and the book explains it well, the mythology, magic and folklore in Maresi was brilliant and I hope to learn more about it in the subsequent books.
‘Sister O smiled at Dori and it was one of those rare moments when a smile softens her thin lips and dark eyes. “That is right, Dori. Knowledge is power. That is why it is so important that novices come here and take the knowledge back out into the world once we have taught them all we can”’.
There is a strongly suggested rape scene, but details are not given (explicit sexual descriptions are withheld in this book), but this (along with the other triggers) makes me throw the book to the higher end of the YA category because it isn’t something I’d recommend to anyone under eighteen anymore, even though the writing style is perfect for middle grade. Additional triggers include honour killings, domestic violence, child abuse, self-harm, there is a mention of child sex trafficking and a homophobic slur is used by one of the bad guys. I felt like the narrative could have directly challenged the homophobia expressed by the bad guys, but it is by no means condoned, they were the bad guys because they were misogynistic and homophobic. The narrative portrayed them as horrendous and wrong through the lens of a child who was disgusted by them and afraid of them. The message I got was: ‘these are not good people, what they’re doing and saying is not okay.’ However, I hope this is challenged further (and more directly) in the sequel.
Overall, I enjoyed reading Maresi and even stayed up all night to finish the book. The writing was easy to fall into and I was hooked from the first page. The sequel is called Naondel, I have been informed that a translated version is on the way, I look forward to reading it!