Last year in November I raved about Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s brilliant first issue of Monstress. The series is through Issue 6 now and you’ll be able to buy the compiled Vol. 1 in July. It’s safe to say I was deeply intrigued after the deluxe first issue (it was 66 pages!), but now I am enthralled. Mostly, I know that folks who are already comics readers have either already picked up Monstress or have heard the buzz, so I’m really trying to reach our readers that maybe typically don’t read comics, but that tend to like the kinds of books that Nicola, Alyssa and I tend to recommend.
Over the past few years I’ve grown to like comics more and more. I love art, I love stories, I love fantasy and sci-fi and comics often blend those qualities in brilliant ways that I adore. Still, I have a bit of a hard time getting into any series that’s just started because I lose focus early and forget what’s happened — this happens to me with books, movies, podcasts… I love a series, but I typically need something significant to dig my teeth into to really get into a series. Liu and Takeda gave me just that, and I am practically addicted to the story.
Monstress is about a young woman named Maika Halfwolf who has a mysterious and ancient monster living inside her body. It times of distress it often takes over and commits atrocities to protect her (and by extension, itself). Maika lives in a world where her kind, the Arcanics, are in an uneasy truce with a race of witches called the Cumaea. While the Cumaea view the Arcanics as a “race,” the term applies broadly to groups of magical creatures that can pass as human, part animal, or even all animal.
The Cumaea, as an organization, are a group of women who are endlessly savage in their acquisition of power. They are beautiful, highly educated and fantastic warriors, but are also vicious, conniving and violent. They have enslaved thousands of Arcanics for their own means, consuming them for power, using them for manual labor, or conducting heinous experiments on them. In Issues 1-4, we get a pretty good look at the Cumaea, but in Issues 5 and 6 we start to understand more about the “Courts” of the Arcanics, which aren’t seeming much better than the Cumaea, from Maika’s perspective.
I said in my first recommendation for Monstress that one of the most fascinating things about it was that its worldbuilding is primarily based on matriarchal structures, which has an interesting effect on how the story is told…. if only because it doesn’t seem to matter at all. There has been no sacrifice of power or violence to acquiesce to more “feminine” qualities. The female characters in these books are everything good, bad and the dozens of shades in between. It’s exactly these shades of grey that make the series being primarily populated by female characters so unique.
They way Monstress is paced feels a lot like reading a novel. Its themes of war between races (and some things about the “races” themselves) reminds me of Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. I think people who loved that series for its complexity will adore Monstress. In terms of aesthetics and worldbuilding, I think that people who typically enjoy manga-style artwork will be thrilled by Takeda’s intricate style.
I am consistently floored by how beautiful her work is and have read each issue several times just to look at the pictures again and again. Comic book covers are often more intricate or artistic versions of the art you can expect to see in the book (they’re meant to draw the reader in, like any book cover, after all!), but in this case, they are simply beautiful renditions of the heart of each issue’s primary conflict or theme. The images you can expect to see in the books themselves are just as stunning, frame by frame.
Overall, I realize this is just the beginning of what Takeda and Liu are trying to accomplish and that thought excites me more than what they’ve already put out. I expect that Maika will only become more complex, that her relationship with the mysterious Tuya will result in more surprises and I’m looking forward to seeing what becomes of a certain Lord Corvin in Issue 7.
I hope you’ll pick Monstress up if you haven’t, that you’ll pick it back up if you lost track of it and that you’ll love it no matter what.
Allison Carr Waechter’s summer school semester just started, so books with pictures are just the ticket.