An idyllic abbey of women is attacked by men.
The island of Menos’ only inhabitants are the Mother, learned sisters, and novices of Red Abbey. Girls come fleeing poverty and persecution; they receive shelter and sustenance, plus knowledge and wisdom they can sometimes take back to their homelands. Thirteen-year-old Maresi arrived four years ago, escaping the “hunger winters” that killed her younger sister. The Abbey’s unnamed neopagan religion serves the Goddess in her three aspects—Maiden, Mother, Crone—and although Maresi narrates in first-person, readers will understand long before she does that the Crone’s calls to her don’t foretell her death. Violence threatens, though, when novice Jai’s father invades no-men-allowed Menos. He’s already buried Jai’s sister alive, and another honor killing looms. (Jai’s two-dimensional culture consists entirely of threadbare misogyny tropes, such as women forbidden from speaking to men outside the family or leaving the house after sunset.) The Abbey’s victory—wrought by vague power based in women’s hair and a last-minute bailout by the Crone—sits alongside a mass near-rape that’s prevented when the sister currently embodying the Maiden places the rapists “under the enchantment of her radiant beauty” and sacrifices herself, in a way the text portrays as glorious and noble, to rape. Jai’s people are white and blond; other characters are either white-skinned or undesignated.
Strong on neopagan religion and ritual; dubious on female empowerment. (maps) (Fantasy. 13-16)