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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)

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