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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Maresi Red Mantle: Red Abbey Chronicles
by Maria Turtschaninoff
Age Range: 12+
Armed with her new knowledge taught to her at the Red Abbey, Maresi Enresdaughter leaves the safe world of her sisters and returns to her impoverished family in the province of Rovas to set up a school for girls in her village. But once home Maresi realises all is not well – the people are struggling under the rule of the oppressive nádor, and are too busy trying to survive to see the value of her teachings.
Narrated in an epistolary form through a series of letters Maresi sends to her friends and superiors back at the Abbey, they very in tone depending on who she is writing to: whether it is Sister O, her teacher and guardian, her friend Jai or her friend Ennike, now the servant of the Maiden and keeper of knowledge about the female body and love, each one reveals a different side of Maresi.
At first Maresi desperately misses the Abbey finding it difficult to reintegrate with her family and community. She has many personal questions to answer – should she try and fit in? Can she remain the educated young woman she became at the Abbey? Is anyone interested in what she has to say? But as time goes on she finds her sense of place and ways of protecting her people by using all her knowledge and supernatural powers. However, can she find the strength to do so when her heart is awakening to love for the first time?
Maresi Red Mantle, the concluding title in the Red Abbey Chronicles by Finnish author Maria Turtschaninoff, is a multi-layered, coming-of-age story. Maresi is now a young woman and the novel charts her gradual character development as she learns to grapple with new challenges whilst seeking answers to difficult questions. We see contrasting sides of Maresi as she grows and matures and throughout the course of the letters her vulnerability, fears and insecurities are displayed to some of the recipients but not to others as well as her fierce determination to educate and protect her people.
As with the first title in the trilogy there is an undercurrent of darkness that is never far away with the fear of violence palpable when Maresi’s powers are challenged. As well as having a compelling narrative, it is a tale with a strong feminist perspective reflecting on a women's place in a world controlled by men and how a woman possessed of knowledge and wisdom is feared as well as revered.
The Red Abbey Chronicles trilogy is unlike the usual trilogy style. The first book Maresi: The Red Abbey Chronicles follows Maresi as a young girl during one spring in her life at an all-female Abbey. Naondel, the second novel, is actually a prequel set hundreds of years before the events in Maresi and written from the perspective of several first-person narrators. All of the books, particularly, Naondel, are self-contained in terms of the story and can be read as a stand-alone works, however, to really appreciate the complexities of the stories it is advisable to read this third title after Maresi: The Red Abbey Chronicles as there are many references that may be lost on the reader if they haven’t encountered them before.
Maresi Red Mantle is a fitting finale, with its captivating and hypnotic prose, beautifully translated by A. A. Prime, it is a thrilling fantasy and one you will not want to put down.
Maresi: The Red Abbey Chronicles (2016) and Naondel (2017) also reviewed on the Outside In World website.