Tuesday, December 13, 2016

stardust arc reviews: maresi

Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles #1)

Maria Turtschaninoff

release date: January 3 by Amulet Books


Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Maresi, a thirteen-year-old novice there, arrived in the hunger winter and now lives a happy life in the Abbey, protected by the Mother and reveling in the vast library in the House of Knowledge, her favorite place. Into this idyllic existence comes Jai, a girl with a dark past. She has escaped her home after witnessing the killing of her beloved sister. Soon the dangers of the outside world follow Jai into the sacred space of the Abbey, and Maresi can no longer hide in books and words but must become one who acts.

 full review under the cut! 

  I firstly just want to thank Amulet books for giving me the chance to read this amazing story a little before it hits shelves in January! I was totally riveted by the world in this novel, and I definitely think that a lot of you will really enjoy this one. I loved it even more because it was translated, from Swedish I believe, though it is written by a Finnish author, and it was still one of the most beautiful books I've read in a long time, so I figure if the translation is that good then that gives a lot of credit to the incredible nature of the book in its original language. Definitely for high fantasy, girl-power loving, subtle magic aficionados!

Maresi is a young girl who lives on an island in the middle of nowhere. She is a novice to the Red Abbey, a place run completely by women. Men are not even allowed to step foot on the island, which means that a lot of the women and girls who take refuge there are running from abuse, from hunger, from unfairness. They form a working society on the island, where each person has their own place and women can learn and work without fearing from the outside world. Maresi herself was sent to the island when she was younger, because her family was starving and they could not afford to keep her, even after her younger sister starved to death. 

The book opens when a mysterious girl named Jai comes to the island, and Maresi takes her under her wing.  Jai has just escaped from an incredibly oppressive society and abusive father, and is still reeling from the recent death of her older sister, who was closest to her in the world. Maresi and her friends, including the lovely Ennike, the rambunctious Heo, and the wise Sister O, take Jai into their fold and show her the love and sisterhood of the abbey. 

I absolutely loved the world of this book. I want to go live in the Red Abbey and pass the days among the goats and the books in the treasure chamber. I thought it was really nicely developed over the course of the book, using both the descriptions in the narration as well as the orally passed down history of the place to set the mood and help me picture what was going on. It sounds like such a peaceful place, and I think the setting really did add to the charm of this book. The hierarchy of the abbey and the way they made their income was super realistic as well, which made me feel like this was an actual place. I also thought it was awesome that the mythology was so super fleshed out, with the maiden, the mother and the crone making up one goddess that rules over not only the abbey but the entire world. I thought it was so interesting that the lines between religion and magic were super blurred, and you can't really tell which is which.

Maresi is a great main character. I think it is so wonderful that she is the heroine of a fantasy story, but she isn't like a warrior or a fighter or especially gifted in magic. All she has are her brains and her love for the abbey, and that is enough for her to get creative and become a really fun person to go along for the ride with. I love that she is precocious and is always asking questions and seeking knowledge, because that curiosity was what always put her in the middle of the action. I also thought it was so cute because everyone loved her, from the sisters (even the ones who liked her begrudgingly) to the youngest novices. I thought Maresi was kind of at the center of this amazing web of female relationships, and it just honestly made me so happy to see all of these girls supporting and loving each other. 

The plot of the book can be split into two halves, in my mind. The first half is when we, along with Jai, arrive on the island. As Maresi shows Jai how to live in the abbey, we also learn how. We learn their daily routines and the things that they like to do for fun, as well as the special occasions and rituals that they perform only during certain times of the year. This part of the book is fun and light as we ingratiate ourselves among the sisters and the novices, with the steady hand of Maresi guiding us. The second part of the book is darker, and it consists of a combination of Maresi discovering where exactly she belongs on the island and Jai's past catching up to her. These two things become connected in a really nice way, and the end of the book is definitely darker than the beginning. I really liked how everything ended, though, it was both unexpected, in that I don't think I could've guessed the ending, and not too crazy that I didn't believe it. 

The magic in this book is amazing. I loved the way the goddess was tied to everything, and her power was tied necessarily to her femininity. It wasn't like most other fantasy books that I've read, where power comes from and is used for more male-dominated practices. Instead, there is a definitive power in femininity, for example, women's hair has a special power, and that was so interesting to me because it was something that I had never read before. I definitely loved it, and I'm really glad that this seems to be a series, because I will definitely continue on with the books. I thought that this book did an amazing job of celebrating women and girls by letting them be deep and complex, without men getting in the way. The relationships were really well fleshed out, and I loved the sisterhood that came from living in the abbey. The mythology and magic system felt so seamless and clean to me, I jumped right into that world without being confused, and the setting kind of reminded me of Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, which is one of my favorite books ever. I would definitely recommend this book to you if you're looking for a fantasy that is a little different from anything you've read before. 


1 comment:

  1. I just finished reading this and loved it! Great review!


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