* I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review *
Publisher: Pushkin Children’s Books
Release Date: January 5th 2017
Summary (from Goodreads):
Maresi came to the Red Abbey when she was thirteen, in the Hunger Winter. Before then, she had only heard rumours of its existence in secret folk tales. In a world where girls aren’t allowed to learn or do as they please, an island inhabited solely by women sounded like a fantasy. But now Maresi is here, and she knows it is real. She is safe.
Then one day Jai tangled fair hair, clothes stiff with dirt, scars on her back arrives on a ship. She has fled to the island to escape terrible danger and unimaginable cruelty. And the men who hurt her will stop at nothing to find her.
Now the women and girls of the Red Abbey must use all their powers and ancient knowledge to combat the forces that wish to destroy them. And Maresi, haunted by her own nightmares, must confront her very deepest, darkest fears.
I’d heard a lot about this book on Twitter and was really excited when I was offered a copy for review.
The book has quite a slow start – I felt like not much happened in the first hundred pages or so, aside from Jai’s arrival to the Red Abbey – but I really enjoyed that, which is unusual for me. I normally need more to hold my attention, but I just enjoyed the world building. Turtschaninoff’s writing is really beautiful, the descriptions flowing and vivid and I just wanted to soak up as much of the world as possible.
The relationships in the book were really special. I love a book that doesn’t focus on romance, and this book was all about the friendships between the girls and the Sisters. Maresi forms a close friendship with Jai, helping her to settle into the Abbey and reveal some of the terrible secrets of her past. She also has a special bond with the younger novices, helping out with them even though it’s not one of her duties. I loved Maresi’s compassion and her thirst for knowledge – the fact that she calls what is basically the Abbey library a ‘treasure room’ tells me we’d definitely get on!
When the action does come in, it’s fast paced and full of tension. The men from Jai’s past follow her to the island and the women must band together to stop the threat and save Jai. I loved how this was done at first – without spoiling anything, it was very original – but when the second threat came, it felt like they were a bit defeated by the men. For a book that felt very pro feminist this seemed a bit of a switch, as the women were totally at the mercy of the men. I think I was hoping for a bit more awesome women action there, although Maresi does come in and save the day in an interesting way.
One bit that stuck out to me was an interesting comment by one of the men, about how he was trying to help them and they only had themselves to blame for what was going to happen to them. It made me think of today’s rape culture and victim blaming and felt like a real reflection of life right now.
*Possible minor spoilery bit here but it’s something I really wanted to say*
The ending came too soon for me – I really wanted to see what happened to Maresi next. I felt strangely proud of her decision to leave the island, even though it felt like the easier choice was to stay there, where she had friends and love and food and safety. But what she said was right: it’s not enough to create one small safe place for women and hoard all the knowledge there, and I admired her decision to go out and do the good she could in the world.
I really enjoyed this book, with it’s gentle beginning and action packed ending, the gorgeous world it built and the amazing female friendships it focussed on, and I can’t wait to read the sequel and learn more about the Red Abbey and it’s origins.