Maresi: A beautifully written coming-of-age tale

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMaresi by Maria Turtschaninoff science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMaresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

THE RED ABBEY CHRONICLES by Maria Turtschaninoff is a young adult trilogy originally published in Finland. This first installment, Maresi (2014), won the Finlandia Junior Prize for children’s and young adult literature. It was translated into English by A.A. Prime.

The Red Abbey is an isolated island convent where a Mother Goddess is worshipped and a trove of secret knowledge maintained. No man is allowed to set foot on its shores. Some of its sisters were sent there because they were surplus mouths to feed, some were sent to learn skills that will make them more marriageable, and some were fleeing from abuse.

Maresi is a young novice, and while she has not yet found her calling within the Abbey, she loves it there. She feels at home among the natural beauties of the island. There’s the impressive library, too — and perhaps most importantly, at the Abbey she always has enough to eat.

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsMaresi begins when a new novice, Jai, arrives at the Abbey. Jai is quiet, troubled, but gradually Maresi befriends her. Roughly the first half of the book covers the development of this friendship and shows us everyday life at the Abbey. This never feels slow; the Abbey has many mysteries for the reader to explore, and we learn more about both girls’ tragic backgrounds. Maresi also begins to have spiritual experiences involving the Crone, the goddess’s death-dealing aspect, which frighten her.

In the second half, Jai’s vindictive father brings a posse of warriors to the island to drag her back home. From this point, the story is incredibly suspenseful as the sisters face off against the intruders. There are dark, unsettling themes here, but also courage and hope. And Maresi learns what she is being called to do.

Prime’s translation of Maresi is smooth. I would never have guessed this wasn’t originally written in English if I hadn’t known that going in. The descriptions of nature are particularly lovely.

I enjoyed Maresi; it’s a beautifully written coming-of-age tale in a compelling setting. I devoured it in a day, and I plan to read the next RED ABBEY book, Naondel, soon.

Published in 2014. Published in English in 2017. 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.  Bound for international success, Maresi will be published in 15 territories around the world!

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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2 comments

  1. Jana Nyman /

    This sounds right up my street, and I know a few other readers who might enjoy it, as well — thank you for putting this author on my radar, Kelly! I hope you enjoy the rest of the series, too!

  2. I agree with Jana. Thank you!

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