Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff

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Red Abbey Chronicles. Pushkin Children's Books, 2016. ISBN 9781782690917
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Fantasy, Dystopian story, Women. Maresi is sent to the Abbey when her sister dies during the HungerWinter, her parents no longer able to feed her. Here her thirst for knowledge comes to the fore as she is able to go to the Knowledge House after she finishes her chores. Here she learns of the place where she lives, the Red Abbey, first settled by the sisters many generations ago, to protect them from the violent male dominated world outside. And she learns of the ancient skills and feels the power of the Crone, one of the three that make up the core of the Abbey, the Crone, the Rose and the Mother.
Her idyllic life is interrupted by Jai, a waif brought to the Abbey for protection, after a brutal father kills her sister. Her mother has risked death herself to get the girl away, and she finds peace within the walls, with Maresi to guide her.
But Jai's position within the walls attracts her father's revenge and he and his friends come to get her back, forcing the women to use the ancient skills to keep them all safe.
Allegorical in tone, the first in the The Red Abbey Chronicles impels readers to see parallels in their own world, the brutal nature of the world outside the walls similar to any regime which aims to keep women subservient, using brute power and fear to keep them repressed. The religious basis of the Abbey is fascinating again encouraging readers to see parallels with religions within their own communities. The island keeps out invaders, the walls and gates make impregnable with magic but Jai's father is more determined than most and the women must take greater risks in defending their island.
This is one of those reads that grabs you and drags you along, wondering what will happen next, all the while hoping they will survive. The background from the arrival of the First Sisters, setting up the Abbey and the way they live earning money from harvesting the bloodsnails, develops a strong base for the story.
Translated from Finnish, there are two more books to be published: one a prequel telling how the First Sisters set up the Red Abbey and the next, a sequel, showing Maresi out in the world. The Red Abbey Chronicles has been sold to thirteen countries, while an American publishing house has brought the rights to the trilogy for a six figure sum. The book has been awarded the Swedish YLE Literature prize for Young Adult works by a Swedish-Finnish author.
Fran Knight