Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff is a tale of girls looking out for each other in a world where they’re abused, mistreated and often thought of as less than human. There are plenty of diverse characters, bright young women, and strong role models. Unfortunately, what this book had in great female characters, it lacked in action and suffered from poor pacing.
Only women and girls are allowed in the Red Abbey, a haven from abuse and oppression. Maresi, a thirteen-year-old novice there, arrived in the hunger winter and now lives a happy life in the Abbey, protected by the Mother and reveling in the vast library in the House of Knowledge, her favorite place. Into this idyllic existence comes Jai, a girl with a dark past. She has escaped her home after witnessing the killing of her beloved sister. Soon the dangers of the outside world follow Jai into the sacred space of the Abbey, and Maresi can no longer hide in books and words but must become one who acts.
Maresi is a young girl who lives in the Red Abbey, having been sent there after their family struggled through an incredibly harsh winter. Maresi buried herself in reading and in studies, eventually becoming someone who took care of the younger girls coming into the Abbey.
It’s how she becomes guide and mentor to Jai, a fresh face to the Red Abbey with a cruel past and a heart set on revenge.
I thought Maresi was a great main character, she was kind and gentle and patient, but she was the wrong narrator for this story.
When I learned about Jai’s past, about her terrible and abusive father, and how she desperately wanted revenge, that was when I knew she should have been the narrator. It would have provided a better story, more deeply seeded in the world of this fantasy than it was with Maresi as the narrator.
Had we followed Jai from the beginning, we would have seen first hand how terrible this world is to women instead of learning about it through memories and flashbacks. We would have seen how amazing of a haven the Red Abbey was to girls who went through hell to get there and it would have made the island that much more precious. Jai’s revenge and survival seemed like the main story, but it was told from an outsider’s point of view, and we never really got to connect with either character.
I wanted to love Maresi more than I did, but all in all, it was still a good story and the translation from the original Finnish made it feel more authentic.