I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff
Release date: January 3rd, 2017
Publisher: Amulet Books
Genre: Young adult, fantasy
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.
I was really apprehensive when I started reading this book. I requested it solely based on the totally gorgeous cover and then started to read the dozens of rave reviews for it on Goodreads. My interest was totally peaked but could it really be that amazing? The feeling that I was going to get burned again by an overly hyped book haunted me through the first few chapters. While I don’t think it deserves all of the five star reviews it has received, Maresi was a quick and overall enjoyable read.
The story focuses on a group of women who live at the Red Abbey, which is located on a secluded island in a fantasy world where women are often marginalized and undermined. On the island, these women are self-sufficient and promote learning and hard work. Many of the women came to the abbey because they had suffered greatly at the hands of men. Some had been beaten and others sexually assaulted. These women had been through great hardship, but found a place and purpose on the island.
The fantasy world that these women lived in was harsh, but the island sounded like a wonderful paradise. It was peaceful, with hot springs, misty mountains and a huge library full of bookish treasures. However, there was a lot to be desired. I would have liked to know more about the lands that the women had originally come from and the religion they practiced, but this will most likely be further touched upon in its sequel (which hopefully will be translated into English from its native Finnish).
The start was a bit slow. This seems to be a trend in the books I’ve been requesting from NetGalley, they all have slow starts, but have excellent endings. The first 40% of the book is mostly just setting up the story and characters. Not much happens except for the description of everyday things: chores, prayers, etc. After this though the story truly picks up and is full of activity. That said, the second half features graphic scenes of violence and sexual assault that surprised me. Based on the synopsis and its target audience I was completely not expecting what happened. While these scenes were upsetting, the characters maintained a sense of hope that I sincerely appreciated.
I liked the fact that the story promoted female empowerment, but disliked how there was a clear divide between women and men. I believe in equality and at times the ideas pushed forward were clearly women are good and men are bad. This way of looking at the world irks me because that’s not how I see feminism. It’s not one gender is superior than the other. I’m not sure if others felt this way while reading the book, but it was something that annoyed me the more I read.
Overall, Maresi was a mixed read. It didn’t live up at all of the insanely positive reviews I had read, but it did hold my interest with its world and characters. The story is definitely not for everyone, the slow start doesn’t do it any favours, but I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would.
Maria Turtschaninoff is a Swedish-speaking Finn who has been writing fairy tales from the age of five. However, there was often a twist: the poor farmer boy and the princess he had just saved from the evil witch did not end up marrying, because they “didn’t feel like it”. Her biggest grief as a child was that no wardrobe led to Narnia.
After a detour as a journalist for a few years Turtschaninoff debuted in 2007 with a middle-grade portal fantasy and has since published four more novels, all YA fantasy.