Author: Maria Turtschaninoff
Series: The Red Abbey Chronicles, Book 1
Publisher: Amulet Books
Hardcover: 256 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Thirteen-year-old novice Maresi arrived at the Abbey four years ago, during the hunger winter, and now lives a happy life under the protection of the Mother. Maresi spends her days reading in the Knowledge House, caring for the younger novices, and contentedly waiting for the moment when she will be called to serve one of the Houses of the Abbey.
This idyllic existence is threatened by the arrival of Jai, a girl whose dark past has followed her into the Abbey’s sacred spaces. In order to protect her new sister and her own way of life, Maresi must emerge from the safety of her books and her childish world and become one who acts.
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher at BEA 2016. This is an honest review.*
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting much from this book. I’m wary of translations in general, because I know how much is reliant on the translator’s ability not only to capture the story, but also the magic of the language the author uses, so when I see something that’s been translated into English, I just try not to get too excited about it. I’ve been burned before, friends. ;p
However, I found myself genuinely enjoying this book. I read some comments from the editor about how it reminded her of LeGuin’s Tombs of Atuan, and I think that’s an apt comparison. It’s a middle-grade/young adult border story that embraces the power of women and their abilities. Maresi lives in an all-girls abbey that is a sanctuary for women who have escaped from violence, abuse, or even just hard times. We eventually learn that Maresi is there because her family was no longer able to feed her, so they sent her away to be safe.
This is a sweet story about friendship, family, and working together to make sure that we as a people have happy, fruitful lives; however, it has dark undertones and it draws heavily from Mother Goddess mythology to create the story surrounding the abbey and its founders/disciples. I love how it explores the idea between a man’s world versus a woman’s world, and how it shows different aspects of power. Also, I don’t know what it is about books written outside of the US, but authors outside of this country do magical realism SO MUCH BETTER than we do! That is certainly true within Maresi; the magical realism is beautifully interwoven throughout the story and it feels completely natural for the characters to be able to do what they need to during the main conflict of the story.
It’s a slow read, but the characters make it worth it. Maresi is such a joy to have as a main character, and that is put into the other characters we get to meet through her eyes. I’m anxiously awaiting for the rest of the series to be translated so I can continue the journey with her. I definitely recommend this book for middle-grade/the younger side of younger adults, though I think that plenty of older folks would enjoy it as well. (I did!)