Naondel by Maria TurtschaninoffNaondel by Maria Turtschaninoff
Series: The Red Abbey Chronicles #2
Published by Pushkin Press on April 6th, 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 480

In the opulent palace of Ohaddin, women have one purpose - to obey. Some were brought here as girls, captured and enslaved; some as servants; some as wives. All of them must do what the Master tells them, for he wields a deadly and secret power. But the women have powers too. One is a healer. One can control dreams. One is a warrior. One can see everything that is coming. In their golden prison, the women wait. They plan. They write down their stories. They dream of a refuge, a safe place where girls can be free. And, finally, when the moon glows red, they will have their revenge.

3.5 Stars

Naondel reads like a mesh-up of A Thousand Nights and Memoirs of a Geisha. Like the former, it is a feminist testimony to the outward weakness but inward strength of women. Like the latter, it is filled with hardship, and struggles, and pain, which – balanced by the beautiful setting and writing – made this a bittersweet kind of read, both beautiful and dreadful.

Whilst marketed in the Teens & YA section on NetGalley, the content is brutal and devastating in both a psychological and physical way, and therefore unfit for a teen audience, in my opinion. Furthermore, this is a founding story, but in my estimation, the predecessor does not need to be read in order to understand the plot in this book.

When I first came across Naondel, I had never heard of this author or her works. The premise, however, sparked my curiosity, for it reminded me a lot of A Thousand Nights by E.K. Johnston, a novel I had adored. The impression hadn’t been misplaced. If you didn’t like either of the two works mentioned in the intro, then you probably won’t enjoy this one, either. Naondel is slow-going, descriptive, and introspective. If there is action, then it is either a verbal exchange of blows or conniving schemes. The focus is usually less on what is happening but on the emotions it evokes in the all-female protagonists.

Naondel is told through several perspectives, which was one or two too many for my liking. Naturally, I formed the strongest bonds with the first two women whose points of view depicted the ordeal the women suffered at the hands of Iskan ak Honta-che, the grand Vizier to the Sovereign Prince. After the third or fourth point of view, the women started blurring in my mind. Turtschaninoff succeded in creating rather diverse voices, but this was not enough. The women, in whose minds the reader plunges, are fleshed out, but with so much pain, it was difficult to bring myself to care for yet another and another and another character. And pain there is plenty. The women are treated like decorations, like playthings, like sex objects to be used and disposed of. After a while, it was hard to keep going, to be honest. Though I can see why Turtschaninoff chose to display an intense rape culture, I got tired of it, as almost every woman was raped by the villain. Perhaps it is their similar fates that made the characters blend together after a while, in spite of their strong characterizations. Rape was not the worst atrocity some of the women in this books suffered at the hands of the villain, and so, not few played with the thought of greeting death with open arms.

“Poison,” she gasped. I scoffed.

“Why should I poison you? I will drink it first, if you like.”

I have since wondered about what she said. That perhaps it was not an accusation, but a request.

Iskan ak Honta-che is a narcissist, if not a psychopath, at his core – power-hungry, oppressive, paranoid, aloof, lacking of a single drop of empathy. Women, for him, are means to an end, used to satisfy his sexual needs or to breed him heirs. He steps into the female lead’s (the first POV we meet) life with an air of seductive charm, as most psychopaths do, and then slowly invades every single aspect of her being, rendering her to a useless puppet on a string. Though Iskan serves as a symbol of male dominance, he was a one-dimensional villain. He does have other sides than his cruelty, for example being extremely knowledgeable or a good schemer, but I wanted a morally grey line and I didn’t receive it. Iskan is so thoroughly corrupted by dark powers – the only magical aspect in the book – that he is pure evil down to his bone. The catch of the book is that, though he believes women to be beneath him, he hands them the power they require to fight back. The more cruel he becomes, the more the women stick together, and a pack of wolves is always stronger than one lonely bear, no matter how big and strong he may be.

My master did not guard his words in the slightest. Not even admission of high treason was dangerous when only disclosed in the presence of women. We were nobody at all. As unimportant as grass on the ground. As interchangeable.

In the face of the despicable content, the beautiful aspects of the book almost went unnoticed. Naondel excites with some excellent Japanese-inspired world-building. From the traditions to the clothing to the food, Turschaninoff thought of every last detail to enrich the world she had created. The simple yet elegant writing further underpinned the beautiful setting. I was surprised by the flow of the writing, for translated books have been disappointing to me in the past, but this novel’s translation seemed to have an effortless flow.

Naondel is a memorable and powerful feminist novel, though slow-going and at times painful, even tedious, to read. It is about power, about oppression, and about the greed and ignorance of one. It is about defiance, about suffering, and about the strength found in many, in each other. I wouldn’t say the novel was enjoyable, seeing as there was mostly pain inflicted and pain felt, but it will certainly stick with me for a while.

**I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.**