Title: Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
Genre: Fantasy/Graphic novel
Rating: 4.5 stars
TL;DR: Monstress was fantastic. A dark and gritty story offset by absolutely gorgeous artwork.
Monstress follows the story of Maika Halfwolf, a woman who is half-human and half-monster with powers lurking inside her beyond compare. For this, she is hunted mercilessly because to possess her is to possess a power that could rebuild or destroy the world.
At first glance, Monstress might appear to be a traditional anime/manga style human-monster hybrid, but it’s so much more complex than that. The world is rich with detail, and the asides at the end of each chapter help to fill-in the gaps that the authors couldn’t cram into the storyline, which frees them up to focus on the action, world-building, and characters.
We meet Maika, who is, to put it simply, very pissed. Her memory is spotty, everyone is trying to kill her, and there’s a monster inside her threatening to take over. I’d be pissed too, but Maika is more than the usual tsundere type. She’s strong physically, but what future books will focus on her emotional growth. To balance Maika’s blind rage, we have a bubbly, naively optimistic fox-child and a calculating cat who keeps them together.
What I love about Monstress involves more than just the main characters. I am in love with the world. There’s a richness to it, a complexity beyond the surface not often seen in graphic novels. This richness arises from the political and historical background that informs the actions of the characters in Monstress and carries through in the art style. Sana Takeda’s art is beautiful. It is a mixture of art nouveau, art deco, and Japanese mechanica all interwoven with a thread of the traditional manga aesthetic. After reading the book, I know I will go back and examine every picture for details I missed. There’s also an added layer of diversity in the story. I don’t think I’ve seen so many female characters in roles of power, and in this story, it works without seeming odd or forced. Witches and monstresses have been part of literature and mythology for centuries, and they are usually worse than their male counterparts. Monstress is no different. You’ll also find that characters are diverse in terms of ethnicity, species, and sexuality.
I can’t wait to read volume 2 when it comes out. If you like graphic novels that are not only beautiful but stuffed with action, then Monstress is for you.