Author: Maria Turtschaninoff
Publisher: Pushkin Children’s Books
UK Release Date: 14th January 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Source: Charity shop
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.
I had heard so much about this book, and when I saw a quote from Lucy at Queen of Contemporary about the book, saying it would appeal to feminists, I knew that I needed to read this book. I thought it was such an interesting concept, and it was definitely a book which left a striking impression and had me thinking about it all day after I’d finished it.
Something I thought was a really nice element of the book was the mysterious opening. Maresi began with the titular character saying she was going to record her version of events, without actually saying what the events were. This in conjunction with some ominous signs woven in throughout the book (I don’t want to say too much about these and risk spoiling anything) meant that I was constantly wanting to know more, and kept me engaged. Also, I liked how, while Maresi was very different to her peers and her path in life was nothing like she’d expected, she didn’t feel like a stereotypical ‘chosen one’, a cliché in books that Maresi managed to avoid. Although she was selected, her resistance and the unconventional nature of the position meant it really stood out as original to me.
I also really liked the feminist slant of the book. As mentioned in the description above, no men are allowed on the island, and the characters are from a range of places in the world of Maresi, so you get to build up a picture of different attitudes towards women within the different towns. I would have liked a tad more world-building, as I felt like I didn’t get as much of a feel for the world as I would have liked. While the description of the Red Abbey itself was great – I had a clear picture of all the majestic buildings and the landscape – some of the world outside the Red Abbey felt a little hazy for me.
An event that changed my entire attitude towards the book came along near the end, and left me absolutely shocked. For most of the book, I felt as if it would definitely be suitable for younger readers, as the characters themselves were quite young, and the book put across more sophisticated ideas about the independence of women and the mistreatment they received in different places across the world of Maresi in a way that I thought both older and younger readers would enjoy. However, the grand climax left me utterly gobsmacked and, to be honest, somewhat horrified at the events which had taken place in the Red Abbey. I was not expecting it, and I think more sensitive readers may even find it upsetting. However, the injustice of the situation I thought was highly topical, and had a strong link to feminist issues, and so could spark discussion and prove thought-provoking to readers.
On the whole, Maresi was a book which interested and intrigued me; the ideas behind it appealed to me as a feminist, and I thought the portrayal of different attitudes to women was particularly thought-provoking, even though there could have been a tad more world-building outside the Red Abbey. I would recommend this book to others, but also suggest approaching it with caution if you are a more sensitive reader, or if you could find sexual assault a triggering topic.