SERIES: THE RED ABBEY CHRONICLES, #1
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: YA, FANTASY
Trigger warning: Implied rape.
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.
It’s difficult to explain why I enjoyed Maresi so much. It’s not an action-packed book, and there’s little at all in the way of plot for at least the first half, possibly more. It’s more what I guess you’d describe as a ‘slice of life’ or something similar. We get lots of description of the Red Abbey — how it runs day-to-day and over the year – and about the lives and personalities’ of the nuns and novices that live there. I can understand why some reviewers think that this all moves too slowly and why it put them off, but I really liked it. There was a sort of sedateness that I think reflected how life in the Abbey would feel. I also really enjoyed the author voice here — although I’m not sure whether translation played a factor — the writing has a sort of old-world folktale feel to it as we get to know Maresi and, through her eyes, the sisters. I loved how they all interacted together, and how they all cared for the others, even when there were personality clashes. Maresi’s devotion to looking after the younger girls was especially touching.
The plot really kicks off somewhere just before the final quarter, and boy does it, as Jai’s past catches up with her and the women of the Abbey must defend themselves. I have to say the magic-system here was one of the coolest and most original I’ve read it a really long time. It’s a sort of subtle, nature-drawn magic that totally feels like something these isolated, mystical women would have access to. I love how Maresi stepped up to the plate at this point, even though she’d been scared and plagued with doubts up to that point. I loved that Maresi was a total bookworm, and that it was her love of knowledge that both tempted her away from, and back to, her life in the Abbey.
The only thing I really didn’t like was the rape scene, which happens behind closed doors, but which felt unnecessary considering the violence and brutality this part of the story already had. While it was very brave of the character within the story, as a reader I couldn’t help but sigh. A community of independent, self-sufficient women is attacked, of course rape has to feature somewhere…
On the whole though, I thought Maresi was a beautiful and evocative read, but if you like your books to be fast moving and action-packed from the get-go, this one may not be for you.