Förlaget (Finland), 2016.
Reviewed by Kate Lambert in SBR 2017:1
Review Section: Fiction for Children and Young People
Naondel is the second in a trilogy of Red Abbey Chronicles. The first, Maresi, was published in Annie Prime’s well-received translation by Pushkin Press in 2016 and has been nominated for the CILIP Carnegie medal. Its narrator is a novice at the Red Abbey, a community on an island on which no man may set foot. In Maresi we learn that the Abbey was founded by seven sisters, Kabira, Clarás, Garai, Estegi, Orseola, Sulani and Daera, and Iona, who was lost, and that they escaped their homeland of Karenokoi in a boat called Naondel.This is their story.
Naondel is thus a prequel rather than a sequel, and initially I was disappointed not to be finding out what happened next to Maresi, and to be embarking on a story whose ending I already knew. However, that knowledge does not make Naondel any less enthralling. The suspense lies in how the main characters can possibly make their escape in the face of all-pervasive evil and impossible odds.
The book begins with the high-born Kabira, her mother and her younger sisters arriving at the spice market by carriage. Throughout the novel,the scent of spices, the textures of the luxurious fabrics, the lush foliage of plants and the vibrant colours of the surroundings are described in sensuous detail. Maria Turtschaninoff’s attention to detail also applies to her world-building, sometimes weak in Young Adult fantasy, but clearly a forte in an author who invented an economy based on sustainable harvesting of a rare red dye from snails.In Naondel it is clear that the rich fabrics are paid for by spices, that lands are conquered for their resources, and that if you force all your farmers to grow cinnamon, you will have to import rice or suffer food riots. Interconnectedness matters and betrayal of the natural world and its spirit comes at a price.
On arrival at the capital, the girls are invited to tour the palace by Iskan, the vizier’s son.The book begins like a fairy tale. It could be Cinderella. It isn’t.
Kabira falls for Iskan and tells him the secrets of her family’s spring, and about Anji its spirit, and her water’s powers of good and evil. Iskan betrays her, uses the power to kill her unborn child and by the end of Kabira’s first narrative, all her family are dead and she is Iskan’s wife. For forty years.
The narrative shifts between the ‘sisters’. They tell their stories before and after they are brought to Iskan’s locked and guarded harem. Garai is a slave from the desert, Clarás a disfigured prostitute, Estegi a servant to the harem, Orseola a dream-weaver banished from her tree-dwelling people, Sulani a warrior captured in battle, and Iona a girl reared to be a maiden sacrifice.
The world in which Iskan holds sway, increasingly cruel, power-crazed, murderous and paranoid, is a misogynistic patriarchy. There is a lot of rape in this book. It is not graphically depicted and the reader, aptly, becomes habituated to it with repetition. The narrators adopt differing survival strategies, in Kabira and Garai’s cases over several decades. Unusually for a Young Adult book, two of its narrators are in their fifties by the end. It is Clarás, a more recent arrival, who hatches an escape plan, but she reluctantly realises that she needs help. Surprisingly realistically, the seven are not a united band of freedom fighters. Iskan and the structures of their society have divided them by class (wife – concubine – servant – slave), age, race and culture, fostering distrust.When it finally comes, their flight demonstrates that it is only by relying on each other and combining their different skills, knowledge and strengths that people can vanquish the forces of darkness and hope to build a different kind of community.