On an island far, far away, yet close enough to be reached by those in need, sits an abbey. The Red Abbey takes in all girls left to its care: unwanted girls, abused girls, runaway girls, and even the rare girl whose family wishes her to become more educated. But no man can stay on this island. The few men who wash ashore and require medical assistance are cared for, and then quickly sent off again. For the isle of Menos is the domain of the Goddess, and the abbey's sisters are her devoted servants.
The day when Jai arrived on a ship was like most others. Maresi was harvesting mussels from the ocean when she saw the vessel. Men do not often approach the island, and when they do, the Teeth of the bay eat up their ships if they have bad intentions. But this ship of men delivers living cargo in the form of a terrified, mud-encased girl. The girl, Jai, is assigned to the cot next to Maresi, and Maresi becomes her guide in a corner of the world where women hold all the power.
Despite Maresi's tales of the Goddess saving the First Sisters on the island, Jai is terrified of her father. She knows, deep in her bones, that he hunts her across land and sea. It is not a question of love but of honor: he must find his renegade daughter before she causes him any more shame. Indeed, the simple life led by the sisters of the Red Abbey is turned inside out when Jai's father leads an attack on the island.
Now, Maresi must find the strength within herself to face her darkest fears and the most terrifying aspect of the Goddess--the Crone, avatar of death.
Maresi is a rather short novel, but it is exquisitely written. Turtschaninoff's world comes to life in full color as you read. Although the novel never lingers on secondary characters, they don't feel secondary. Sister O, Ennike, Mother, Dori, and Joem brim with vitality and personality. Maresi's coming of age takes her through contemplations of knowledge, power, and femininity--broad concepts for any novel, but ones that are perfectly handled in the narrative.
I cannot wait for the next book in the Red Abbey Chronicles to be translated and released in the United States. I mean it--I keep looking at the Finnish reviews thinking, "Ah, that doesn't look too hard to translate! Maybe I could learn Finnish..." Speaking of the translation, it's beautifully done and not at all clunky.
If you are all about the girl power but don't like to shout, Maresi is for you. It is a quietly compelling examination of faith, feminism, and finding yourself. Most highly recommended.
*Edited to add*
I know readers are going to react very differently to how the Rose distracts the invading men from raping all of the sisters by offering herself instead. For me, it was very clear in the novel that in her aspect as Maiden, she used her sexuality as a tool and as a weapon. Others may not see it that way, and I understand why.
I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.