I bought Maresi after booking to go to a panel that Maria Turtschaninoff was on about Feminist Fantasy at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (more on this in a later post). Since that talk was yesterday, it seemed like a good a time as any to post my review of this incredible story.
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.
The main thing that I took away after finishing this was how rarely I see first-person past-tense written in the style of a diary/ memoir. We’re introduced to Maresi by Maresi herself on the first page, she tells the reader who she is, that she isn’t a storyteller but that she has been told that her first person account is important and she wants to record it while her memories are still fresh. She’ll occasionally break the fourth wall by talking about the fact that she’s in the ‘now’ and writing about the past but it isn’t overused and actually helped me get into the story more.
Even now as I write, my hand trembles in memory of the terror, and I hope my words are still legible.
I loved the female-based mythology that was at the centre of the book. There’s the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone and it’s all really well thought out. I didn’t know quite how to word this until Maria herself talked about it but it was really refreshing that these three aspects were all valued and honoured rather than just the youth. Even though it’s a young adult novel with a teenage main character, a lot of the other characters in the Abbey are older and not stereotypical old women.
I also loved the value given to reading and knowledge. Y’all know I love a book where characters read! The girls at the Abbey can go out and take the knowledge they learned there to other communities, a little like missionaries, so they’re taught a whole host of things like medicine, farming, animal care and architecture. There’s a really great balance of traditionally masculine and feminine work being done on the exclusively female island.
I originally gave this four stars because it did take me a little bit to get into. The pacing for the first half was very slow, maybe because it’s a translation, maybe because the background information needed to be laid out much like a non-fiction book by our narrator before the action. However, while writing this review, I feel like I appreciate this book so much more now I can see the wood through the trees. It’s worth pushing through if slow-pacing is something that makes you put a book down, because Maresi is the young adult book that you want young adults reading, but that they’ll actually enjoy as well!