Monstress, Vol. 1: The Awakening by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Image Comics: July 19, 2016
Source: Free From Publisher
I’d go there again!
Monstress is the first volume in a a historical fantasy graphic novel series, and it’s amazing. Like, really amazing. The artwork is gorgeous and the storyline is compelling and mysterious. Fantasy fans out there will rejoice at the sheer level of complexity of the world that has been created in this graphic novel.
Maika is a teenage girl who’s out for revenge. She orchestrates her own capture in order to infiltrate those she believes to have the information that she needs. Something has happened to Maika and she finds herself changing, becoming more violent as she’s influenced by an unknown force. Maika struggles to control the monster that is living inside her, but it’s a constant struggle and at this point Maika doesn’t have much control over the mysterious creature the compels her to do things she wouldn’t otherwise. The world that Liu creates in Monstress is fantastic. A war has ended, but the division that brought that war still exists. It’s a division between those that naturally have magic and those that do not. Because of this division there’s a constant tension between the two sides, and that could break at any time and erupt into war. Maika is at the centre of that tension because it’s clear that she has something that both sides want. Maika’s strange abilities set her apart from both sides and it’s clear that that inner monster that she’s providing a home to could change the tide for either side. The duality of Maika’s nature ratchets up the suspense in Monstress since it’s anyone’s guess whether Maika will use her powers for good or ill. And, readers don’t exactly know who the good guys are. I personally have my doubts about certain individuals.
While I did enjoy the storyline and the character of Maika, what really makes this such an impressive graphic novel is the artwork by Sana Takeda. Seriously, the art is beautiful, dark, and expressive. All the themes that the author is trying to get across is emphasized by the art; they are a perfect accompaniment to the story, enhancing the tension and meaning of the author’s words. The art alone will have me coming back for volume two.
The last thing that I’ll mention is that the novel offers some fantastic secondary characters. When Maika breaks herself out of lockup she rescues a fox faced girl who provides a sharp contrast to the jaded Maika. This little fox is an innocent, and her capacity to care for Maika is lovely. Then there’s the two tailed cat, who is snarkily funny. This cat offers unsolicited advice to Maika, and Maika’s attitude towards the cat is downright hilarious. The moments of humour in Monstress are unexpected, but add an interesting texture to the book.
Monstress offers readers a rich reading experience, introducing readers to a mysterious heroine and a complex world. There are so many unanswered questions by the end of volume one, it’s impossible not to want to more. Monstress is the perfect read for fantasy graphic novel fans.
I originally picked up Monstress because of the historical/steampunk vibe to the book; there doesn’t seem to be enough historical graphic novels. While my recommendation is much lighter in fare than Monstress, I do think Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk series will appeal to fans of the historical tone of Monstress.
As a relative newcomer to the graphic novel genre, I’m lost for more recommendations, but I am looking for some! I’d love to know what else I should be reading after having loved Monstress. Let me know in the comments!