Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles #1) by Maria Turtschaninoff
Published by Amulet Books
Publication Date : January 3rd, 2016
Available as eBook & hardback – 265 Pages
Source : NetGalley (thank you!)
Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Maresi, a thirteen-year-old novice there, arrived in the hunger winter and now lives a happy life in the Abbey, protected by the Mother and reveling in the vast library in the House of Knowledge, her favorite place. Into this idyllic existence comes Jai, a girl with a dark past. She has escaped her home after witnessing the killing of her beloved sister. Soon the dangers of the outside world follow Jai into the sacred space of the Abbey, and Maresi can no longer hide in books and words but must become one who acts.
Coming of age novels are a super common type of book in fantasy, it’s almost the stand-by for YA and fantasy. Growing up and honestly most of my adult life that means the male character’s coming of age. Most fantasy, being real, is male driven. Male cast, patriarchal society, lots and lots of male romance, etc. That’s also been the default for a long time – and it is changing! Things are moving and shaking, it’s awesome and I love it. At this point though I haven’t read a fantasy novel so steeped in the female as this book and world was, and by all that’s holy I loved it. Loved it a lot, finally an amazing female coming of age (with no romance). I can guarantee it won’t be for everyone, it was a slower book for me – I took my time reading it because I wasn’t sure about the narrative style at first. It’s the recollection, the story of Maresi’s coming of age. She’s thirteen at the beginning of this novel and it tells the story of how a new girl on the island of the Red Abbey arrives and changes things – not only for the abbey but for Maresi.
The world is my favorite part of this story. I want to live in this world, to live at the Red Abbey. Pick a fantasy world to live in – this would probably make my list. The island is a sanctuary for women and girls. It’s watched over by a coven of women all under the gaze of a very real and active goddess simply called the Mother. She is your traditional three aspect goddess, but the way in which she acts and affects these girls lives – subtle ways and bigger ways, was amazing. Outside of the island we get teasers of what life is like from the girls and women there. Maresi comes from a poor and cold place, Jai comes from a place where women are oppressed to a terrifying degree, it’s just like our world but this book gave it hope in the Abbey. And as a note to this, the cast of this book is with I believe two exceptions (of named characters) entirely female. There are some unnamed soldiers, but except for two men later in the book with names everyone is female.
The story is probably the next strongest point. Though it seems to meander a lot at the beginning it pulled itself tight and together in the end. It goes from normal everyday life at the Abbey to wondering who is going to make it out alive. It does show us the vulnerability of women in some aspects and their strength in others. And trigger warning this for rape – but read the spoiler tag (or scroll down to the bottom of my blog post) if it’ll affect you, it is important. I won’t give away any heavy spoilers for where and why the ultimate confrontation comes from but it all ties into this idea of the female and oppression. The outline of the story was definitely one I’d seen before but never so well done.
Maresi is our main character of course, and gives us the bulk of development. She goes from fairly naive girl to someone with strength and acceptance for what she is and has to do. I loved a lot of things about her and at times she drove me nuts – just like a thirteen year old does. I was genuinely sad where she was and excited where she was in the end. I really, really want to know more – I don’t if the sequel is a direct one or a companion, but I’d read an entire series about her (honestly I’d read an entire series set at the Abbey, which I think the next is, so I’m happy either way). The rest of our characters we got to know as much as Maresi did. They didn’t have as much of a development except maybe in Jai. I did end up loving all the maternal figures in the book since I was so invested in Maresi by the end I felt how she did about her teachers and peers.
I really, really enjoyed this. Like wow – I want so much more in this setting, with these characters. This is the type of YA fantasy I want young women to read to help inspire them that fantasy of this type is for them, and hey they could write this too. I’m hands down buying my own copy of this (already preordered) and I’m prowling for the second book to pop up for a galley or pre-order. I’d say this is on my list of must try for the new year.
START SPOILERS I’ll throw out there that there is an intense scene where someone steps forward and uses her body as a sacrifice to save her sisters. She is the sister that represents that aspect of the feminine, the love and nurturing side of the Mother. She doesn’t fight the rapes, instead points out that this is what she is trained for and these men will never have such an experience. She clearly doesn’t want to do it, and clearly some of the men don’t want to either but it happens. But she does it for her sisters, and it’s all off the page as while this is happening Maresi is running around doing her own ‘save the sisters’ thing. That portion was really, really rough for me but I loved her all the more for that action – END SPOILERS.