Maresi, Naondel and Maresi Red Mantle (The Red Abbey Chronicles) by Maria Turtschaninoff – Series Review
A version of the first book – Maresi – is now being filmed by Film Four and the concluding book of The Red Abbey Chronicles is released on 6th June. This is a feminist fantasy trilogy in translation. Commissioning Editor of Pushkin highlights that each of the three books is different in style and self-contained in terms of story so that each can be read and appreciated as a stand alone.
Series Trigger Warning for references to “off- page” sexual assault and violence against women.
About the Author
Maria Turtschaninoff was born in 1977 in Helsinki, and has been writing fairy tales since she was five. She is the author of many books about magical worlds and she has been awarded the Swedish YLE Literature prize and has twice won the Society of Swedish Literature Prize. She has also been nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award and the Carnegie Medal. Maresi Red Mantle is the third book in the Red Abbey Chronicles, following Maresi and Naondel. Translation rights in Maresi have been sold in 21 languages, with film rights optioned by FILM4.
Book 1 – Maresi Synopsis
A world where girls live in fear. A safe haven far away. But is it far enough?
This is Maresi’s story.
Maresi came to the Red Abbey several years ago, 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 want to destroy them. And Maresi, haunted by her own nightmares, must confront her very deepest, darkest fears.
What I Thought of Maresi
I first read Maresi two years ago but didn’t get round to reviewing it. I’m a great supporter of re-reading. For one thing my memory is rubbish, for another I believe that you bring a part of yourself and your experiences to whatever you read. Two years really can make a huge difference.
Maresi is written in first person point of view from Maresi herself. She is a likeable character – a Belle or Hermione type – in love with books and learning. Through her eyes, along with newcomer Jai, we get invited into the world of The Red Abbey and its daily and yearly routine. We also start to unpick what happened to Jai to lead her to journey to this place of refuge.
The pace of life is reflected in the read, until that peace and tranquillity is shattered and then like the inhabitants we are left scrambling, scared and breathless.
The fantasy elements are actually fairly subtle and really more of a commentary on women’s power when they join together. The female friendships in this are so engaging and I love the mix of women of different ages which reflects the Maiden, Mother, Crone beliefs they all hold.
Maresi reminds me of Malala. In fact this story seems more reminiscent of the challenges that some women still face today. She is passionate about the need to educate girls and believes knowledge is power. This leads her to forge her own path which she will take in book three.
This is truly a feminist read but in a subtle way. One I didn’t fully appreciate when I first read it. Know that sometimes you need a fast paced plot driven read and at other times books that are more introspective. Come back to them when you are ready.
Book 2 – Naondel Synopsis
In the opulent palace of Ohaddin, women have one purpose – to obey.
Some were bought here as girls, captured and enslaved; some as servants; some as wives. All of them must do what the Master tells them, for he wields a deadly and secret power.
But the women have powers too. One is a healer. One can control dreams. One is a warrior. One can see everything that is coming.
In their golden prison, the women wait. They plan. They write down their stories. They dream of a refuge, a safe place where girls can be free.
And finally? When the moon glows red, they will have their revenge.
What I Thought of Naondel
I began reading this but realised it was more of a prequel based on the first women to travel to the island told from alternating perspectives (in book one we learn Naondel is the name of the ship they arrived on). Whilst that story sounds so interesting I wanted more of Maresi’s story so I decided to read book 3 first and then I’ll return to this. I’ll post my review here when I’ve read it (I’m planning a binge read today because I’m loving this writing).
Finished. 3rd June. Woah. That was a much darker book. We start off with Kabira’s story and it feels like a fairytale about a villainous man and an innocent maiden. Then in turn we hear from each of the other women who come to Ohaddin. My trigger warning for the series is in full force here. Women are definitely treated very much as objects by the male villain. Reference to sexual and physical assault, infant loss/miscarriage and one particularly gruesome torture scene. I don’t think I’ve ever wanted a character to die a vicious death so much. Think Ramsey Bolton.
The women’s stories are bleak, heartbreaking and eventually empowering. There is much to be gleaned about nature versus nurture, sisterhood and what it means to stand together. This is also the book of the trilogy that contains the most magic, but one of the characters expresses it well – that magic is only as good/bad as the person wielding it.
There is one point of view I felt was missing throughout and it is explained why at the end, but I do wish we would have got to hear it from them.
I’m happy I read the trilogy the way I did, Book 1, Book 3 then Book 2, although this being a prequel means it can be read without the knowledge of the other books. I would label Naondel as more adult than the other two so for YA readers in the older range.
Book 3 – Maresi Red Mantle Synopsis
Please note spoilers for book one are found below.
THE TIME HAS COME FOR MARESI TO LEAVE THE SAFE HAVEN OF THE RED ABBEY
Armed with her new knowledge taught to her by her sisters at the Abbey, Maresi returns to her home village to share her skills and learning. Leaving the safe world of her sisters she enters a world ruled by brutal men.
But when Maresi returns to her village, she realises all is not well – the people are struggling under the rule of the oppressive Earl, and people are too busy trying to survive to see the value of her teachings. Maresi finds she must use all the terrible force of the Crone’s magic to protect her people, but can she find the strength to do so when her heart is weakening with love for the first time?
From first love to first loss, MARESI RED MANTLE is a thrilling conclusion to the Red Abbey Chronicles.
What I Thought of Maresi Red Mantle
As I said above I felt that after reading Maresi I wanted to follow her on her journey away from the Abbey. I am currently half way through and will update this review when finished.
Because the female friendships were some of what I enjoyed the most in book one I was a little worried with Maresi leaving everyone behind. But, this book is told in Epistolary fashion with Maresi writing back to her friends in the Abbey, and although the letters are all one sided that bond is still evident. The Red Mantle of the title refers to the cloak she is gifted by Jai at the end of the first book, and helps her retain that link back to her sisters on the island.
This makes Maresi’s more difficult relationships with the women back in her village all the more apparent. And the conflict between her life in the Abbey and now seems stark. Her sister is envious of the opportunities afforded to Maresi and her mother shuts down at mentions of the Abbey and forces Maresi to do things her way. Maresi wants to build a school and teach but numerous things conspire to block this. Despite her outlook having changed with the education she has received, the book shows that progress is best developed from those within a community, ones who can understand and respect its origins rather than by outsiders determined to see only the bad.
This conflict opens Maresi up to relationships with the men around her. I loved her reunion with her younger brother, her father is mild and in contrast to the violent portrayals of men we’ve seen up to now. And then come the love interests, those unwanted, those pleasurable and those who see her for what she is.
I’m planning to finish this today – my health and life have conspired against me but it’s Sunday and I’m spending the day with Maresi. I’ll update this review when I’m done.
5pm. I finished. This was perfect. Lilting storytelling, realistic development of relationships. A tale that moves through birth, life, independence, love and death. It examines equality and community with the air of magic that gives us the distance to stand back and reflect how this compares to the world we live in, and the magic we possess- that of community and togetherness.
In summary though I highly recommend this series. The feminist fantasy will appeal to YA and adult readers and those who love books such as Circe, The Handmaid’s Tale and Only Ever Yours.
I’m not going to lie. I’m a tiniest bit sad the last book is only out in paperback though #bookcollectorproblems
Thank you to Vicki and Pushkin Press for my gifted copies for the purposes of honest review, and for bringing us books in translation to explore other cultures and worlds we may otherwise miss out on.
Do check out the other spots on the blog tour