CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Red Abbey Chronicles: Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff is published in hardback by Pushkin. BLOOD, power, sisterhood and fear entwine in this young adult tale, where women are second-class citizens, denied education and owned by their fathers. But there is a safe haven for girls to escape to, if they can: the Red Abbey is an ancient, historical sanctuary on a rocky island that promises community, freedom, protection – and no men. They just have to get there.
This terrifying, topsy-turvy world comes into focus thanks to the thoughtful narration of title character, and book-lover, Maresi, who tells us she arrived at the Abbey aged 13 and that everything had been whirring away just fine until new girl Jai arrived, her past hunting her down with every pulse of the sea.
The first book in what will be a three-part series from Finnish fantasy author Turtschaninoff, it unfurls slowly, Maresi drip feeding us the secret histories of the island, its nooks and crannies, and supernatural tendencies, binding these strands together with snippets about the Sisters (the Red Abbey’s elders) and Novices (the younger, giddier inhabitants of the island).
However, as their idyll comes under threat from invasion, the pace ratchets up and Turtschaninoff doesn’t shy away from the nastier, seamier sides of human nature. The more mystical elements could be toned down, but they don’t stop Maresi’s story being anything less than arresting.
8/10 (Review by Ella Walker)