MARESI by M Turtshaninoff (translated by A Prime), Pushkin Children’s Books, p/b, ebook, £7.99, www.pushkinpress.com/products/maresi
Reviewed by Alex S Bradshaw
Maresi is training to be a nun, a sister of the Red Abbey, and she is one of the oldest novices on the island convent. She suffered through the hunger winter before being sent away by her loving parents to the Red Abbey and to a better life that they could not give her.
Then Jai arrives.
Maresi takes Jai under her wing and takes her around the Abbey, shows her what she should do to take part in the daily rituals, and manages to befriend Jai. But, however well protected the Abbey is and however far Jai has run, her troubles wash up on the shore of the Abbey.
This is the first translation of MARESI into English and it’s a good translation, I only thought that there were a couple places that the phrasing was a little awkward and I felt that I needed to re-read the sentence. Overall the writing was very smooth and didn’t trip me up at all.
The setting, of course, centres on the Red Abbey, an isolated convent of nuns dedicated to the triple-aspect goddess the Mother, Maiden, and Crone. It was clear that the author had gone to great lengths to ensure that they knew the ins and outs of the island convent, where they got their food from, how they made money to buy the things they couldn’t make on the island, and more. But, rather than showing us snippets that hinted at the depth of the world that the author’s created we were treated to a step-by-step tour as the protagonist, Maresi, shows the new novice Jai around. If the author had condensed some of this exposition down I think that the first half of the book would be much better off for it and would help the reader to get to the meat of the story faster.
Having said that I feel that it is only fair to mention that other readers seem to greatly enjoy the depth and complexity that the author’s given the island convent. It does show a great dedication to the work and the fact that they have not fobbed off the reader with a wave of the hand shows a respect for their audience.
Maresi, the main character, loves reading, is kind to her peers, and is always on a quest for knowledge. All of these things make her easy to connect to and to like as a protagonist, and although there’s not a lot of scope for her to be active the fact that she does take care of Jai on her own initiative means that she does give herself agency.
As we get more information about the convent itself we also start finding out about the rest of the novices and nuns that inhabit it. As the book leans to a character driven story than a plot driven one this means that the characters dig their claws into you. It tugs at the heartstrings as the story crescendos and despite the pace being slower at the beginning than other YA by the end it is a real page turner.
Overall, I would say that despite the slow start MARESI is a solid YA fantasy book. It creates a world where the women of the Red Abbey are independent of any masculine interference are quite capable of defending themselves. No damsels in distress here.