Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles #1) by Maria Turtschaninoff (translated by Annie Prime)
Published in 2014 (2016 English edition) by Pushkin Children's Books.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: borrowed from a friend.

Genre: MG fantasy.

My rating:

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.

zmaj-desnoOne of my resolutions for this year was to read more non-English books. I decided to count this one despite the fact that I read it in English – it’s a Finnish original (translated by Annie Prime) and as I can’t read (or speak) Finnish, reading a translation was the only option.

Maresi is a really interesting middle grade fantasy. The story is told by a girl (whose name is Maresi, go figure), a novice at the Red Abbey, which is a temple to the Great Mother built on a tiny island that’s nearly impossible to reach. No men ever set foot on this island, all the Sisters and the novices are women. Some of the novices are daughters of rich men who send them to the Abbey because it offers a spectacular education. Some are fugitives from horrible conditions. But all are equal on the island and welcome to learn as much as they can.

Maresi loves to study. She is the happiest when she gets to sit alone in the library, reading all the books and the records of times past. I liked her both as a character and as a narrator, her analytical mind, honed by studying old texts, is childish (she’s thirteen, I think, at the beginning of the story) but well-organised. It’s been a while since I read a similar narration (a report of events written in the first person) and I enjoyed it a lot.

The plot takes a while to take off. I kept waiting for something to happen and then realized the entire “introduction” was a slow, measured way of easing me into the characters’ stories, the ways of the Abbey, the religion and everything that goes with it. It might not be for everyone – especially if you’re used to epic fantasy where things go bang a lot – but it worked just fine for me.

I also liked the examination of different cultures through the eyes of the girls who come to the island. They all come from different cultures and don’t know anything about each other’s habits, so explaining how things – especially gender roles (!) – work is something that was done tastefully and realistically enough that I wanted to know more about these cultures.

I didn’t know the book was the first part of the series until I checked it out on Goodreads – after I had already finished it. So it works okay as a separate installment, I found the ending satisfying enough for it to be a standalone. But I heard the sequel is awaiting translation, so I’ll definitely be checking it out!


Have you read Maresi, by any chance? How about other Finnish books?

Do you like a slow start to a novel or do you want to land in the middle of the action?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

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  • Jolien @ The Fictional Reader

    This is so interesting! I think it’s great you’re trying to read more non-English books (translated of course because we don’t speak every language). I don’t speak Finnish either, but I might read this translation. It sounds really good :D

    • It’s really interesting. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I finished it, which is definitely a good sign in my opinion (I have terrible book amnesia otherwise).
      And yeah, I’ve been trying to read more widely. Lately, I have read nothing but English (and really mostly American) novels, so I want to branch out a bit. It’s a work in progress because most of my favourite authors are Americans but still.

    • Anna Helin

      It is actually originally written in Swedish (there is a minority of Swedish-speaking Finns in Finland, which Maria Turtschaninoff belongs to, and Swedish is an official language in the country). It was translated into Finnish later. I’ve read it in all three languages, and it is worth reading!

      • Really? I had no idea! I mean, I know Finns use both languages, depending on where they live and so on (I’ve been to Helsinki), but I thought this was in Finnish. I didn’t really check, though. :/

        And yeah, it’s a really interesting book, I’m looking forward to part 2! :)

        • Anna Helin

          Yeah, I’m not sure if the English version has been translated from the Finnish book or not (it might have), but Maria primarily writes her books in Swedish. She’s a friend of mine and she’s been very exited about Naondel being almost finished… I really look forward to reading it!

          • Oh, do say hi and congratulations on a really good book! I never know if authors ever hear about my reviews but when they do, it’s super cool if I also liked the book.

            And I hope the English translation was done from the original, it’s always better to have a direct translation. Sometimes (if a language is really small or obscure), translations to Slovenian happen through other languages like English or French, but we have both Finnish and Swedish translators (I know of a problem with an Estonian book, for example).

          • Anna Helin

            I will do that when I next talk to her! :) She is quite active on the internet (twitter and facebook) and frequently responds and comments on stuff about her books.

            Let’s hope so! Personally I liked it most in it’s original language (that it happens to be my first native language might matter). When translating books into Finnish they have a tendency of changing names to ones that sit easy in a Finn’s mouth, and I don’t like that… I don’t think they did it much with Maresi, but for example the Harry Potter books are horribly butchered up.

  • This sounds intriguing, I mean you don’t hear much about translated books unless they fit into a big bookish fad, like the Swedish thriller fad that occurred when Girl With The Dragon Tattoo came out. I certainly don’t hear enough about translated children’s books so a Finnish middle grade fantasy book sounds like it could be really interesting. I’ve actually just checked my local library catalogue online (because my library is joining the modern age) and they actually have a copy. I may have a trip to the library in my future.

    The slow pace to it could be off putting (I can never decide if I want all the action or a book that has solid world building which fully immerses you even if you do have a slower story) but I willing to overlook things like that if it is done well. I’m not a huge MG reader but I do love fantasy so I may be giving this one a chance.

    • Yeah, I know the situation in Britain and the US is very different from ours. I mean, more than a half of the books published in Slovenia are usually translations! A large part of those is from English but we get some really good translations from other EU (and non-EU!) languages, too. I think if I asked my mom, she reads loads of translated books from other languages – not even a half of what she reads is translated from English.

      If you can get it from the library, you should give it a go, it’s an interesting book.

      • See, that’s so cool you have so many books from different countries available. I’m sure they’re translated over here too, but they are so much more difficult to find because you just don’t hear about them. Maybe that can be something I look into next year, reading more translated books.

        And I may venture in there, it’s been too long since I’ve been to the library anyway. It could be great source for me saving money as well.

        • No, I actually read (when I studied translation theory) that only 3% of books published in Britain are translations. So there’s just no way there are as many translations available even if your book market is much larger than ours. It’s a political decision as well, because you have quite a nice colonial past. :)

          And yeah, I often feel like libraries aren’t for me – I just LOVE buying books for myself. But I don’t have unlimited funds so sometimes it’s a must!

          • How is that possible? That’s insane. I feel a strong urge to go read all the translated books now to show there is a demand for more. I mean that is insane. I want to read up on this now.

            And my library is good, but it’s always so awkward to get all the books you want and I am terrible about utilising the services available. I am trying to do better as I am embarrassed by the amount I spend on books. It’s the problem with living at home, I have too much disposable income.

          • Haha, I don’t know, you’re pretty self-sufficient as a culture, I guess. I think that things might be changing in the recent years, I mean, it would make sense with a higher number of immigrants all over Europe, but “big” nations such as yours (and the French, for example, and Americans, of course) are usually really bad at incorporating other-language stuff into their cultural space. I know that traditionally, you got quite a lot of translated CHILDREN’S books, but not so much for the adults (with the exception of classics). But I don’t know, take a stroll through the nearest Waterstones and check the offer – I think you’ll mostly find British and American/Canadian authors.

            I mean, I know there are diverse authors being published, too, but they’re often from former colonies like India and the works are written in English in the first place, not translated. It’s really quite interesting! :)

            I know I’m more sensitive to this because I’m a translator – nobody in Slovenia really acknowledges the fact that they’re reading translated books, it’s just the norm here. It’s like all these wonderful authors actually wrote in Slovenian – and the best (most cherished) translations are those that feel like they aren’t translations at all so you don’t get “thrown out” of the story, if you know what I mean. There’s this excellent book by a guy named Venuti (he’s American) called “The Translator’s Invisibility” and he writes about this a lot. But it’s probably not something you’d read if you’re not super-interested in the process of translation itself. :)

          • I know we are a big nation (or a lot of people in a small place) and we have our own culture and there are so many authors already in the country, but it seems very vain to think that we have all we need to offer and not look elsewhere, especially with the number of people moving in and out of the country all the time. We do get a lot more things from English speaking countries and the rest of the world gets a bit ignored, I think. I suppose children’s books are far easier to bring in as low translation costs and all that. I will take a wander around Waterstones soon and see how many translations I can find.

            And there is nothing wrong with being sensitive to it because I am a person who knows I am lucky to live in a world where my native language is spoken widely and I am aware I’m lucky to be able to just buy whatever book I want and not have to wait for it be translated or anything, that’s if it gets translated. It’s worse because books may get translated, but when done poorly readers will notice and won’t enjoy the book as much even if originally it was fantastic. I think that book sounds interesting, although I find a lot of things interesting and then try and actually learn about it properly and remember how hard learning is. It’s good that you obviously care about what you do and are so aware of it. It’s crazy it’s not discussed more that so much of what is read is Slovenia is translated works and no one’s saying anything.

  • This book sounds fascinating! My resolution this year is to find more foreign books to read as well – even if it means I have to source them from my native Vietnamese if they haven’t been translated into English. I’ll have to look into this one!

    • It’s really interesting. If it sounds like it might be up your alley, give it a go.

      Did you learn English as a second language (in school) or were you bi-lingual from the start? I started learning it when I was 6. :) And good luck with your resolution!

  • Three cheers for translated novels! I love them because sadly I am monolingual (unless we’re talking picture books, then I have French as well) and I want to read books from all around the world.

    I remember you mentioning this book a while ago and I was intrigued – now I really need to read it! This kind of sounds like a Hogwarts AU of Ravenclaw without magic…if that makes any sense? Haha! But really though, all the girls are equal on the island, they study, and they discuss gender roles? Heck yes, I’m in! :D

    • Haha, I’m multi-lingual if you count reading picture books, I can do Italian, too. ;) But yeah, reading translations is something that’s very, very natural here in Slovenia because more than half of all the published books are usually translations – this is normal when you have such a small language. I think we have the highest percentage of translated books in Europe, or maybe we’re up there with Finland and Iceland or something like that. But I think that in Britain and the US, they only get around 3% of translated books. Canada has to be interesting in this regard because of your bilingual situation…

      And there IS some magic, I mean, the abbey is set there in honor of the Great Mother (it’s a classic combination of maiden-mother-crone). But I wished for a more developed system, you know I love well-thought-out worlds. But yeah, give it a go, I’d love to chat about it.