Monday, 12 August 2019

Book Review: Maresi by Maria Turtschaninoff!

I bought Maresi after booking to go to a panel that Maria Turtschaninoff was on about Feminist Fantasy at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (more on this in a later post). Since that talk was yesterday, it seemed like a good a time as any to post my review of this incredible story.



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.


The main thing that I took away after finishing this was how rarely I see first-person past-tense written in the style of a diary/ memoir. We're introduced to Maresi by Maresi herself on the first page, she tells the reader who she is, that she isn't a storyteller but that she has been told that her first person account is important and she wants to record it while her memories are still fresh. She'll occasionally break the fourth wall by talking about the fact that she's in the 'now' and writing about the past but it isn't overused and actually helped me get into the story more.

Even now as I write, my hand trembles in memory of the terror, and I hope my words are still legible.

I loved the female-based mythology that was at the centre of the book. There's the Maiden, the Mother and the Crone and it's all really well thought out. I didn't know quite how to word this until Maria herself talked about it but it was really refreshing that these three aspects were all valued and honoured rather than just the youth. Even though it's a young adult novel with a teenage main character, a lot of the other characters in the Abbey are older and not stereotypical old women.

I also loved the value given to reading and knowledge. Y'all know I love a book where characters read! The girls at the Abbey can go out and take the knowledge they learned there to other communities, a little like missionaries, so they're taught a whole host of things like medicine, farming, animal care and architecture. There's a really great balance of traditionally masculine and feminine work being done on the exclusively female island.

I originally gave this four stars because it did take me a little bit to get into. The pacing for the first half was very slow, maybe because it's a translation, maybe because the background information needed to be laid out much like a non-fiction book by our narrator before the action. However, while writing this review, I feel like I appreciate this book so much more now I can see the wood through the trees. It's worth pushing through if slow-pacing is something that makes you put a book down, because Maresi is the young adult book that you want young adults reading, but that they'll actually enjoy as well!

Coming to the Abbey and learning to read was like opening up a big window and being flooded with light and warmth.

You can buy Maresi from The Book DepositoryWaterstonesAmazon or The Book People!

Have you read Maresi? What's your favourite feminist fantasy book?

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Book Review: Sanctuary by V.V. James!

I finished Sanctuary* at a little past midnight and my first thought was that I'm very glad I order my shelves alphabetically because I have no idea where genre-organisers are going to put this one. It's not the urban fantasy I thought it would be, it's beyond thriller and the witches will keep it off the topical contemporary shelf. Sanctuary is hard to define beyond the word Brilliant. This is a long one today!



Sanctuary. It's the perfect town... to hide a secret.

To Detective Maggie Knight, the death of Sanctuary's star quarterback seems to be a tragic accident. Only, everyone knows his ex-girlfriend is the daughter of a witch - and she was there when he died.

Then the rumours start.

Bereaved mother Abigail will stop at nothing until she has justice for her dead son. Her best friend Sarah will do everything in her power to protect her accused daughter. And both women share a secret that could shatter their lives.

It falls to Maggie to prevent her investigation - and Sanctuary itself - from spiralling out of control.


My initial interest for this book was based in the research that V.V. James did into witchcraft because it's a topic I'm personally interested in and find fascinating. The note at the end says that while the magical system draws on various sources, it shouldn't be equated to modern day practices, and I'd love a long article from V.V. James going into this. Her talk at the Gollancz preview night was incredibly detailed, and this research shows in the book.

I know I'm not alone in my avoidance of topical books. I like a lot of books that deal with tough subjects but I feel like when they get too close to the realities of everyday, I find them very stressful to read. There were definitely moments like that in Sanctuary; the President tweets using a lot of words in all caps while disparaging Democrats, there's religious cultural appropriation, there's a case of rape with a lot of comments ranging from believing victims to slut shaming, even from police which- yeah. The use of police transcripts, emails, tweets and news articles interspersed between the multiple POVs make it feel very real. But there's no direct allegory for the witches in Sanctuary and I think that's kind of the point, there's a bit of everything from religious persecution, sexism, unethical policing and racism. So by adding magic and witchcraft, for me, it actually stopped it being as anxiety-inducing while still addressing important contemporary problems.

The theme of consent is also explored in a really interesting way. You've got the rape storyline which we see all the time in real life; popular sports star doesn't understand the word no. But you've also got the idea that the 'foundational principle of magic is consent' so magic without consent goes wrong and causes adverse reactions. I liked the way this was dealt with, and the parallels are really interesting.

A lot happens in this book, and every time you think that that things about to get better for the characters, they probably won't. It's a busy novel. By having so many POVs (three main and others popping in), it did feel like some characters fell a little flat and didn't get much page time. I would've loved more from some of the other coven members and their children as it developed but there was so much going on that the book didn't feel lacking without it.

And the writing, oh, the writing. The power of grief was tangible and even if the actions of the grieving were reprehensible, V.V. James made it believable. It seemed easy for the grief to lead to intolerance, even if it isn't something we imagine in ourselves, it is something we see a lot in reality that I've never really thought about before reading this.

With Sanctuary, V.V. James has created a fantasy version of contemporary America that's incredibly real and brutal. I know I won't be alone in hoping that Sanctuary doesn't stay a stand-alone and becomes a companion-style series dealing with similar issues in a world of fictional witchcraft.

"The giveaway of what happened here is the blown out windows. Each one is blackened with soot round the edges, like evil itself crawled out of every hole it could find."


Sanctuary is out tomorrow! Will you be picking it up?

Blog design by aleelilydesigns