Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles) by Maria Turtschaninoff and Annie Prime (translator)

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Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles) by Maria Turtschaninoff and Annie Prime (translator)

Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A very rich and quite dark fantasy for the older schoolchild, one that takes the genre's ability to come up with a new religion and runs with it.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: January 2016
Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781782690917

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Despite the name, there is nothing masculine about the island of Menos at all. Apart from a few male farm animals and birds, everything is feminine – the island is a rugged mountain land, home to only one abbey where everyone is female, and worshipping a female holy trinity – one Mother Goddess in three ages of life. The novices there are on the cusp, in several ways – of girls turning to women, of students turning to Sisters, of people learning what the religion means for them starting to practise it with a duty to others. And, of course, they are on the border between the past that took them to the abbey and what could come if they ever leave. Maresi comes from a family that lost one daughter through famine, and the inability to support themselves. New girl Jai, who has latched on to Maresi like her shadow to learn the ropes, has come from a place even darker – but whose future might be more blackened by darkness is for you to discover, in this trilogy-opening fantasy.

And what a fantasy it is. Even when it snaggled me with awkward sections, I was quite rapt. I didn't mind the fact I was introduced to quite too many Sisters and not really allowed to learn who was who, for Maresi's narrative was pretty damn good. Even when the opening chapters were pretty much all what we have come to call an infodump, where exposition takes the place of drama, the world was a rich one, and despite being forcefed the 'this temple is there, these steps lead to this' dialogue, I was not so much newcomer Jai as an entertained reader. Such things should not really apply, and this first chunk should not work, but it does. And it only gets better.

Beyond that section the book enters into something much more subtle, and certainly more intriguing. The teenaged girls we're concerned with are definitely naïve to their destiny, and even when Jai declares she knows hers she might not be entirely correct. We learn these at a great page-turning pace, alongside the day-to-day life and much deeper secrets of this religion and its adherents. Names of other places get thrown at us at daft rates at times, but this island is definitely the focus of our attention, and for the few short hours this large print volume takes, it's complete anathema to worry about any other.

If I were to worry about another world – ours, and those books in it people might know as a reference – I might suggest this author has something of Ursula le Guin about her. I can certainly see this as being the book of choice of the older sister to he who is still enjoying his Earthsea books – this has something of the magical, isolated island location, the strength of conviction about the narrative that makes the world-building feel so complete, and the narrative drive the best young reader's fantasy can have. On that regard, I do feel this is more of a teen read than a 'confident reader's' – the darkness when it is reached is not utterly graphic, but that and the age of the heroines make me think this is for those ages 12 and up. And for adults, for there is nothing too childish or dismissible about this. The way it ends with no clue at all given about the next two books means the rest of the trilogy is already long overdue.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The title character in Boy 23 by Jim Carrington is even more isolated than those in the Red Abbey here – to begin with it's just him and a voice.

Buy Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles) by Maria Turtschaninoff and Annie Prime (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles) by Maria Turtschaninoff and Annie Prime (translator) at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles) by Maria Turtschaninoff and Annie Prime (translator) at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles) by Maria Turtschaninoff and Annie Prime (translator) at Amazon.com.


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