Naondel: Pushes the boundaries of YA

Naondel by Maria Turtschaninoff science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsNaondel by Maria Turtschaninoff science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsNaondel by Maria Turtschaninoff

Naondel (2016) is the second book in Maria Turtschaninoff’s RED ABBEY CHRONICLES series, but it’s not a sequel; it’s a prequel. Set many years before the events of Maresi, Naondel tells the story of the women who, fleeing their own oppression, founded the Red Abbey as a sanctuary for themselves and others. It is set in what seems to be an amalgam of several Asian cultures, and we see glimpses of other parts of Turtschaninoff’s world as well.

If I didn’t know anything about Naondel before I started it — if I didn’t know it was the follow-up to a young adult novel that won a prize for youth literature — I would never have guessed this was YA. This is heavy stuff. Oh, it starts out YAishly enough, with two teenage sisters competing for the hand of the Vizier’s handsome son, but soon takes a horrifying turn into subject matter such as rape, murder, miscarriage, and suicide, and these themes continue throughout the novel. They were touched upon in Maresi, but they’re so much more pervasive in Naondel, and with no Red Abbey yet to protect the victims.

The Vizier’s son, Iskan, hungers for power, both temporal and magical. To this end, he accumulates a harem of magical women, with a diverse variety of backgrounds, personalities, and powers. The trouble with building a harem of magical women — if you’re a murderous despot — is that it can turn against you.

Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsSlowly. Naondel unfolds over decades; some of the women are so thoroughly cowed that it takes them a long time to consider resistance, and they’re also in an environment that discourages them from trusting one another. When they finally do, though, it will take all of their abilities and some luck to make their escape. Late in the novel we see the beginnings of the Abbey, and there are a few more twists in store regarding some of the characters.

The writing is as beautiful as before, and the women are interesting characters with interesting powers. I could see how their collected knowledge led to the Abbey as Maresi knew it. If I have any quarrel with Naondel, it’s just that it’s so sad for so long that it can be hard to read. Everything that happens in this book has happened to real women, though, and it doesn’t feel gratuitous. It’s another good installment in the series, even if I’m not totally sure it’s for teens.

Published in 2016. Booklist called Maresi “utterly satisfying and completely different from standard YA fantasy.” Now, Naondel goes back to establish the world of the trilogy and tells the story of the First Sisters—the founders of the female utopia the Red Abbey. Imprisoned in a harem by a dangerous man with a dark magic that grants him power over life and death, the First Sisters must overcome their mistrust of one another in order to escape. But they can only do so at a great cost, both for those who leave and for those left behind. Told in alternating points of view, this novel is a vivid, riveting look at a world of oppression and exploitation, the mirror opposite of the idyllic Red Abbey.

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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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