A gripping, timeless YA fantasy. A breathtakingly fresh celebration of womanhood.
Really there’s only one thing I need to say in this review, and that is: READ MARESI!
Read it now, and pass it on. Tell the whole world about this book!
Before I say any more, here’s Maria Turtschaninoff revealing the inspiration that led her to write this young girl’s tale of moving to the Red Abbey, to an island that is inhabited solely by women:
Maresi narrates this YA fantasy in the first person past tense, recounting life at the Red Abbey starting from the arrival of a newcomer to the island, Jai. As Jai and Maresi become friends, Maresi realises that Jai is hiding pain and hardship that cut even deeper than the welts on Jai’s back.
Maresi is a book full of stark contrasts. Compassion prevails over cruelty, love prevails over hate, knowledge prevails over ignorance. Indeed the book has two distinctive halves in the narrative itself. The first half depicts life at the Abbey with the nuns. It’s an idyllic setting, a peaceful island full of sunshine and happiness. An island that smells of honey and dew. Maresi expresses her joy: “Coming to the Abbey and learning to read was like opening up a big window and being flooded with light and warmth“.
What strikes me about the first half of the book is how each girl or woman has her own purposeful task or role, and how the organisation of their community runs so smoothly and peacefully. Knowledge and education are encouraged and prized. However, you can feel that there is something coming, something lurking behind this utopia. Something nasty about to pounce.
And sure enough, the second half is fast-paced, action-packed, brutal, sad and shocking. What we witness is harsh and distressing, and we care desperately for the characters we’ve seen previously blossoming. The calm and reserved nuns display a raw, unashamed earthiness when men invade their island, men who violently violate their values and beliefs. No matter what the personal risk, the nuns do not flinch or falter when threatened. Throughout the whole of the second half my heart was thudding away, my hand covering my mouth in shock at frequent intervals. My reactions provoked a great deal of interest form my husband, who is now keen to read it to (he wants to know what I was screaming at!)
This powerful tale proudly flaunts the resilience of women in the face of adversity; it’s a proud celebration of sisterhood and a unifying lament about the harsh world we live in. Death is ever present, always lurking, always watching us with her door open. Humiliation and violence are familiar foes. The story of Maresi itself is simple, and has a classic, timeless feel. Yet the storytelling is fresh, modern, compelling and beautiful. The premise of Maresi feels so completely plausible that it stirs your feminist emotions, and leaves you feeling determined to challenge discriminating behaviour.
I’m so glad that Maresi has been optioned for film, as it deserves to reach the widest possible audience. I loved this book so much that I’ve started reading Naondel already. It is definitely cut from the same cloth as The Handmaid’s Tale, and my wish is that lots of people find this book! Maria Turtschaninoff has written a wonderful book, and I look forward to reading more from her in the future. Thankyou to Pushkin Press for bringing this book to the UK!
Pippa Wilson 5th July2017