Peace disappears as a girl with dangerous past seeks sanctuary in The Red Abbey Chronicles by Maria Turtschaninoff [Review]

John Millen |

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Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles)
By Maria Turtschaninoff
ISBN 978 1 78269 091 7

“I am no storyteller,” Maresi tells us when she begins to recount the events that happened when she was a novice at the Red Abbey. But in the pages that follow, we discover the very opposite of what she claims. Maresi proves to be an exact and riveting storyteller. She tells her gripping story simply and clearly, and has us hanging on her every word. It is a story of friendship and danger, and anyone who reads it will be moved by its strength.

The Red Abbey is an religious retreat set on a lonely, rocky island populated by a group of women who worship the Triple Goddess. Founded long ago by the First Sisters, it is a haven of peace cut off from the stress and violence of the outside world. No men are ever allowed on the island.

The sisters of the Red Abbey manufacture a precious red dye from a colony of blood snails that breed on the island. This dye is traded for commodities that the retreat needs to survive, Fishing boats call in at a jetty that the sisters have built, but no trader or fisherman is allowed to set foot on the island. Any male who invades the life of the Red Abbey will be cursed.

Maresi came to the island of Menos and the Red Abbey when she was thirteen years old following the dreadful Hunger Winter on the mainland. She had heard rumours about the existence of this very special place where only women lived, and now she is here and she is safe. But it is not her own story that Maresi wants to tell. She wants to tell us about the disaster that happened after the mysterious Jai arrived at the Red Abbey.

Maresi was originally published in Swedish in 2013, and is the first novel by award-winning Finnish author Maria Turtschaninoff to be translated into English. With publishing rights sold to eleven countries and plans for nine further translations confirmed, this exciting feminist fantasy really is something special.

The first half of the book is a slow burn, with Turtschaninoff guiding readers round the Red Abbey, introducing the women and girls who live there and filling in the mystery and myth of its history. This is a unique setting that, surely, will reveal many tales. There is little plot development in the first half of the book, but from the outset, the reader senses that something terrible is coming and this casts a shadow over the peaceful daily life of the abbey.

A new girl arrives seeing sanctuary on the island of Menos, and the women of the Red Abbey welcome her. Jai is fleeing from the violence of her brutal father at home on the mainland. The newcomer is accepted into the sisterhood, and Maresi is given the job of looking after her.

But something is not quite right. Jai has brought a mysterious past with her that could destroy the Red Abbey and its way of life.

Expertly written and translated, Maresi is an original story that stands out in the very crowded marketplace of Young Adult fiction. It is a dark and haunting tale and well-deriving of the buzz that has accompanied its publication in English. It is hard not to be impressed and captivated by Maresi of the Red Abbey and the tale she tells.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]

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