Trigger Warning: Rape features heavily in this book.
When I finished Maresi, Maria Turtschaninoff's first book in The Red Abbey Chronicles, I loved it so much I was ready to dive in to the second book straight away. I have patiently waited a whole year for the much anticipated prequel, Naondel, and it was most definitely worth the wait! Naondel is incredible, and even better than Maresi!
Naondel is a book written by six women, six of the seven first Sisters of The Red Abbey. Naondel chronicles how their they came into each other's lives over decades, due to one vile, deplorable, power-hungry man. As a young woman, Kariba falls for the handsome though arrogant Iskan, son of the Vizier to the Sovereign Prince. In an attempt to impress him, she shows him Anji, her family's sacred spring, and tells him how it's a spring with power; power to show you the future and the past, and how drinking from it imbues the drinker with power. As Iskan manipulates Kariba into marriage and takes control of the Spring, this one mistake changes the course of many lives. With Anji, Iskan becomes the most powerful man in Karenokoi, both politically and through what he is able to do through drinking the water. But the more power Iskan gets, the more he wants - and women are but toys to play with. Over decades he adds to his harem at his palace in Ohaddin; Garai, a captured slave he buys to be his concubine; Orseola, a dreamweaver lost at sea, seeking refuge on Iskan's ship, not knowing what awaits her; Sulani, a River warrior who defends her people when Iskan's army invades; Clarás, a prostitute at a pleasure house Iskan takes an interest in for being "disfigured"; and Iona, a young girl alone on an island. Rape and ill-treatment are all these women know once Iskan steals them away and imprisons them. But these women are brave, with strength and hope inside them, and together, they will do all they can to get themselves free.
Naondel is absolutely heartbreaking. It's not an easy read to see how abused and mistreated these women are - over decades. The book starts when Kariba is 19, but by the time the book ends, she's an old woman. Years go by between the arrival of each new girl, each a teenager when they arrive, but most growing older as they years go on. The story is taken over by each girl as they are imprisoned at Ohaddin, but the narration does jump back to previous women a few times, when there's story only they can tell.
These women are so inspiring; over years of abuse, it would be understandable if these women chose to give up, but each of them fight in their own way, whether it's holding on to who they were and their beliefs, keeping their anger alive, or rebelling secretly. I was in awe of these women as they carried on, as they formed friendships with their fellow captives, as they found joy in the small things. I felt so proud of them. That may sound ridiculous as this is a fictional story, but their experiences aren't fictional; countless women have experienced the treatment these characters do, whether it was in the past when women had fewer rights and were the property of their husband, or when people were slaves, or whether it's today, with women and girls being trafficked and groomed. The world may be made up, the magical spring and other sacred sites of the earth's life force might be fictional, but the attitudes towards and treatment of women are not. Naondel's rape scenes are not graphic, they are a sentence or two long, but that doesn't stop this from being a difficult read. These women are left with injuries. Iskan causes any woman carrying a female child to miscarry, and sons are taken away. They are degraded, violated, criticised, and treated as if they are nothing. Your heart breaks for these women, over and over again. But these women are strong, so there's always hope. At times I found myself thinking, "If only Kabira didn't tell Iskan about Anji," but if she didn't, these women would not have come together. They would not have created The Red Abbey. There would be no safe haven for women and girls to go to, to escape their own ill-treatment - because the ill-treatment doesn't end.
I don't want to say too much more; this is a book where you should get to know the characters and their stories as you read. But this is a story that teaches; it's a made up fantasy world, but there are times where you can't help but see reflections of the world we live in, and there are moments where feminist values really shine through, and you feel like you are being spoken to about the just how incredible girls and women are and what we can achieve. Maresi was a feminist story, but this one, with the women writing about their hopes for the future and The Red Abbey, it takes it a step further and talks about a woman's worth. Reading it, I felt empowered. I felt proud to be a woman, and of who I am.
Despite how horrific the events of this story is, like Maresi, Naondel is a quiet and beautifully told story. It doesn't sound like the kind of story that would be, but Naondel is enchanting and completely captivating. Turtschaninoff has such a way with words that reading her story is enjoyable despite the fact that what you're reading about is so upsetting. Naondel also has that fairy tale feel to it that Maresi had, though is perhaps less Disney and more Grimm. Naondel is storytelling at it's best, and I lapped it up. I couldn't put this book down, not only because I was desperate to know what would happen to these women I'd come to love, but also because I couldn't get enough of Turtschaninoff's writing.
One of the other things I loved about Naondel is how it has a pretty diverse cast, with these women coming from various races and cultures. Garai is described as having red-brown skin and white hair, and Orseola is described as having dark skin. Orseola's people live in trees. Garai's people moved from place to place, their property being only what they need. Garai, Orseola and Sulani know of sacred sites and the earth's life force, and so in some ways their cultural beliefs overlap, but yet are separate. There is a beautiful same-sex relationship, and there is an intersex character.
This book is hard read, but also such a joy. Full of hope, courage, empowerment and sisterhood, Naondel is a heartbreaking but incredible story, and one that will stay with me for a very long time.
Thank you to Pushkin Children's Books via NetGalley for the eProof.
Published: 6th April 2017
Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books
Maria Turtschaninoff's Website
My other reviews from the series:
Maresi (The Red Abbey Chronicles Book 1)
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