Set in an isolated abbey - a haven from abuse and oppression - on an island in the middle of the ocean where all men are forbidden to set afoot comes a riveting and timeless fantasy weaved in ancient myth and magic.
The narrative follows thirteen-year-old novice Maresi, who 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.
But when new novice Jai arrives, her dark past, and violent father, follows with her to the sacred spaces of the Abbey, bringing a boatload of mercenaries who want to pillage the abbey in its wake. In order to protect their idyllic existence and new found sister, Maresi must emerge from the safety of her books and her childish world and become one who acts.
Expertly translated from Swedish into English by A.A. Prime, Maresi is a hauntingly beautiful tale that I devoured in one sitting. Imbued with magic, Maresi felt authentically ancient, yet refreshingly contemporary. I was utterly captivated by the rich detail of the Red Abbey - a female only space that enhances learning, home and hearth; existed solely to protect and preserve women's rights and rituals. Yet the shocking reality behind the existence of this safe haven, for women to escape abuse, rape and even death makes this book an urgently timely yet timeless read. There's no denying that there is a lot of darkness and trauma within the pages of Maresi, which wouldn't be suitable for young readers, yet Turtschaninoff handles these issues with great sensitivity and compassion. But a positive light radiates from within the pages too. Turtschaninoff has beautifully painted a web of strength, hope and understanding whilst establishing a safe and protected space for those who otherwise have nowhere else to turn. Yet it's the fiercely passionate bond of sisterhood and friendship that makes Maresi so refreshingly original.
Maresi's voice is unlike any YA voice I've read before. What struck me as special was not only was she incredibly brave and honest like most young heroines, but it was her eagerness to learn and absorb knowledge; her sensitive understanding and self-awareness of others around her, and of course her sense of hope and togetherness. Although Maresi is female, her character I feel would definitely resonate with both genders and all ages.
It's not unbeknown that when it comes to YA literature the market is largely dominated by British and American authors. Literature in translation, although small, is diverse and authentic, and one to be celebrated, and it's thanks to publishers like Pushkin that bring to light these different voices from around the world.