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.
A story of friendship and survival, magic and wonder, beauty and terror, Maresi will grip you and hold you spellbound.
The Red Abbey is proud to be a refuge for girls and women the world over, offering sanctuary and an education to those who come to then leave and make the world a better place. Maresi has been there for years and now considers it home. She and the other girls learn about the world, how to farm and build, and read and write, and their belief system of the Mother goddess.
It was such a quiet, almost quaint, setting for a fantasy world, and I loved it. Fantasies rarely bother with small-town sort of problems and just getting to know the abbey, known the world over but having no real part in it, was fascinating.
As it was all women, no men allowed, it really felt like a feminist story; the girls were aware that men can be dangerous but weren't taught to fear them necessarily, just be wary of different cultures.
Things at the Abbey changed when Jai comes and Maresi tells the story of her arrival and her transition to life in the Abbey. It was an interesting concept, as the story is told as if from memory. It meant that some details were so obviously huge but we got a very clear picture of life and then how that drastically changed when Jai's nightmare comes true.
I was really late to the party with this book but I'm glad I finally got round to it, as I really enjoyed it. The mix of magical fantasy and cruel realism was jarring and dramatic but it really was a story about friendship and girl power, and I loved that.
Published 14th January 2016 by Puskin. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for my copy in exchange for an honest review.