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The Red Abby stands alone on an isolated island far from the shipping lanes. So hard is it to find that for many the Abby has taken on mythical proportions in the many surrounding lands. It is a place of safety and knowledge for the female only population; men being forbidden even to set foot on the sacred ground. Maresi is an enquiring mind. Saved from the hardships of the outside world she spend all her spare time reading, but her safety and that of all the women are threatened when Jai arrives on the island...
Maresi (2016. 251 pages) is a young adult fantasy novel by Maria Turtschaninoff, a respected and award winning Finish writer. It forms book one of The Red Abby Chronicles. The Book was translated into English by A. A. Prime.
The author has chosen to set her tale in an indistinct fantasy realm. Within the pages of the book we are restricted to the Abby and the sanctuary of the Island of Menos, a peculiar choice of name, given that, apart from some animals, the population is solely female.
At the book's start the Abby has already stood for many hundreds of years, with its nun like inhabitants devoted to the storage and dissemination of knowledge. From what little we know of the world outside it can be divined that most women live in fairly brutal and patriarchal societies.
Much of the first half of the book is taken over to descriptions of how the Sisters spend their time, and in this respect the world building is very effective, save for the fact that many characters are introduced with which we spend little time. This has the effect of lessening our empathy for their plight. There is a hint of infodump, but nevertheless the details which are revealed are always interesting enough to continue reading.
The tale slowly reveals its secrets and we discover what had brought Maresi to the Island and more importantly what Jai has fled from - the same thing which comes to threaten the Sisters very existence. The Sisters practice a very feminine religion, trusting into the trio of facets of their goddess and much is made of the colour red and the notion that blood holds great magic.
I know that this is the first of a trilogy, but I found the divide between male and female characteristics simplistic. The women are depicted as living in almost total harmony, while males are generally portrayed as brutes, except for one and he turns out to be gay; there is no balancing of Shylock’s ‘if you prick us do we not bleed’ idea. This may be addressed in the further novels.
In the end the book succeeds in introducing its heroine and enough of the world for me to remain intrigued about the next two novels, although if they are to succeed as more than feminist propaganda then Turtschaninoff is going to have to introduce some more nuanced male characters.