|Naondel / Maria Turtschaninoff|
trans. from the Finnish by Annie Prime
NY: Abrams, 2018, c2016.
I couldn't wait to read this after reading Maresi, the first in the Red Abbey Chronicles. This one is a prequel, giving us the back story of how the Red Abbey came into existence. It's equally feminist and steeped in myth and folklore as the first one, but it's even more wide-ranging, gathering a cast of women from places around the world.
This is full of stories of spousal abuse, rape, violence, murder, and more, so be prepared. It's much darker than Maresi in this sense, and it's also focused on adult women, not the children and teens of Maresi, so the themes are more adult.
Despite that, it's imaginative and evocative, with some spectacular characters who have an inner strength and ability to envision a different future for themselves. It begins in a small kingdom where a girl has a connection to their local goddess through her sacred spring. She is being courted by a prince who seems to want to fit himself into her ruling family and their customs. Alas, once she is married, she is isolated as he becomes more and more controlling, and when her sister and parents all die suddenly he holds full power. But that's not enough for him, he needs to rip the goddess power away from her and claim that too.
He's a terrible man, and in his many travels he subjugates women of all kinds, bringing captives home when someone catches his eye because of her abilities. He wants to capture and control every kind of power and magic he sees. These women are very different, from a wide range of places, and with varying skills - magic, healing, wisdom, building, and more. They distrust one another immensely, but through being forced together they come to realize that every one of them wants escape, and to accomplish this, they must work together.
They become the First Sisters who found the Red Abbey, a place of escape and safety for women suffering from the violence of the world. But in order to get there, they have to share their stories, make a plan, and carry out a harrowing and desperate escape. It's a nerve wracking adrenaline rush in those pages, and you really, really want to see these women succeed. Knowing their back stories makes the arc of the book so powerful -- each one is damaged but pushing past it to reach her own desires.
The creation of each woman's story, and the descriptions of their own specific countries, has such variety and individual detail. It's a beautiful structure, with the diversity of the world highlighted. Some of the countries and locations come to life so strongly I feel like I'd been there. There is a vague correspondence to some places in real life but there's such a strong fantasy overlay that the places stand on their own without trying to match them up to real cultures.
It's another strong story of women who've essentially been enslaved by patriarchal society, and fight their way out. The feminist viewpoint is again pitiless and has no time for excuses. I love Turtschaninoff's writing style, spare and not overwritten, it adds to the resonance of the stories. Definitely a satisfying and important read.