Finnish feminist fantasy
released 14 January 247 pages | Hardback author Maria Turtschaninoff Publisher Pushkin Children’s Books
Maria Turtschaninoff might be an unknown name to most English-speaking readers, but in Finland and Sweden she’s won multiple awards. Maresi is the first in her new trilogy and also the first of her books to be translated into English.
Maresi lives at the Red Abbey, an idyllic island convent where men are forbidden and girls and women are protected and educated, building an idealised life of work, study and worship. Some girls come seeking learning, some escaping prejudice, and some are running for their lives. One of these is Jai, who’s fleeing her cruel, controlling father – but he’s not going to let her go lightly.
In a genre where so many works focus on the archetypal “strong female character”, it’s refreshing to find a heroine who isn’t particularly adept at fighting, climbing or shooting, but is instead a bookish girl who loves learning. Red Abbey is very much an idealised community – everyone gets on far too well, and sexuality is pretty much ignored – but that feels only right in a world, so much like our own, where almost everywhere else is both full of danger and empty of opportunity for women. A touching, well-drawn story of female community, solidarity and friendship. Rhian Drinkwater