Review: Maresi Red Mantle by Maria Turtschaninoff
I am not alone. I have my family around me, and my friends. Marget and I see each other every day. But our friendship is no longer as effortless as it once was. When I talk about the First Mother and her three aspects, or about the Crone and her door, Marget listens politely for a while but soon starts gossiping with my mother about the neighbours or discussing the best remedy for nappy rash and colic with Náraes, who often comes to see us and brings the children. I am no longer one of them. I am an outsider.
(Maresi Red Mantle. P61. Maria Turtschaninoff.)
In a patriarchal world, the Red Abbey has always been the one haven where girls and women can learn. Now Maresi has left the Abbey. Although she could have stayed all her life, she chose to take her knowledge back into the outside world. She journeys back to her home in Rovas filled with ideas about opening a school and passing on all she has learned.
The people of Rovas live by tradition and superstition. Most people are happy to follow in their family’s footsteps, and few of the others have considered it could be otherwise. Maresi fails to pitch her ideas in a way which interests the village people.
Meanwhile, the rule of an oppressive Earl and his followers threatens peace and security in Rovas. People are losing their homes and girls and women are being targeted by soldiers.
Maresi wants to protect her people, but how can she when she is uncertain where she belongs?
A feminist epic and compelling narrative which continues the story which began with Maresi. Although this is the third story in the Red Abbey Chronicles, Naondel is a prequel which tells a story from the time when the abbey is founded.
Anyone who is familiar with the series will be desperate for the next installment. You won’t be disappointed. Although the community which Maresi returns to is less overtly magical than the island and Abbey setting, there is, as Maresi herself discovers, more to her homeland than is apparent from the surface. The First Mother – the three-form goddess who unites the women and girls of the Abbey – is present here too, even if people’s understanding of Her takes a different form.
Maresi’s crisis goes deeper than her struggle to set up a school. Her story is told in epistolary form, through the letters she sends to her friends and superiors back at the Abbey. What initially seems like regular reports turn into something more like a lone member of a chat group firing off messages into the night. Maresi can’t stop writing. She misses the Abbey, where she so clearly belonged, and her failure to reintegrate into the community forms a large part of her personal crisis. Should she change to fit back in? Can she remain the educated young woman she became at the Abbey? Is anyone even interested in what she has to say? I found this character development interesting because, even though Maresi is brilliant in many ways, she still has her flaws. She considers herself to have outgrown her childhood home and fails at first to see what it still has to teach her.
For the first time in her life, too, Maresi is grappling with romance. Given the brutal treatment she has seen in the past this is a complex area for her to face.
Maria Turtschaninoff’s writing is masterful. At all times it feels as if she is weaving a myriad of rich threads into a tapestry, and her prose is so beautiful that I read slowly just to enjoy the words. This book spans the generations, too, with a final section looking ahead to the choices Maresi makes in her elder years. The books have always dealt with rites of passage – birth, love and death – and their interconnectivity, but before now we have often seen them in a figurative way. In the rituals and beliefs of the island. This time they hit Maresi’s family straight on.
An extraordinary and complex novel. This series is rich and beautiful, examining the literal and figurative havens women find when confronted with a Patriarchal world. Prepare to cry alongside Maresi, but more than that, be prepared to grow as a result of reading her story.
Thanks to Pushkin Press for my gifted copy of Maresi Red Mantle. Opinions my own.