This week’s rec comes in the form of a graphic novel. The book, Monstress is written by Marjorie Liu and illustrated by Sana Takeda.
I know Marjorie Liu’s name from being a librarian, but I’ve never read any of her work until now. A friend of mine recommended this book to me and I’m so glad she did!
Monstress is, as described by the publisher Image Comics, as being set in alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia. The world is full of magic, humans, animals who speak and people who are neither human nor animals, but something in between.
Maika is a war survivor and her story is that of survival and revenge. She wants vengeance and so she begins her journey by becoming a slave. Early on we realize that this won’t last and it doesn’t, Maika escapes, frees her fellow prisoners and begins her path of destruction. Along the way she steals part of an ancient mask that will change her and set people after her.
The first volume, Awakening, tells the story of Maika’s journey of vengeance, introduces us to other characters who will join Maika, and sets the stage for the long journey she has ahead of her. We also discover what happened to Maika during the war and who (or what) is trying to kill her.
The story, which I have not done any sort of justice, is tremendous. Maika is a flawed character, but she is not bad. The people who live around who are flawed, the world they live in barely survived a war that was ended in a way that few truly understand. Maika’s world is not free of war, instead it’s again on the brink. When you close the back cover of Awakening, you wonder if perhaps Maika will be the one to prevent it — or will she start it?
Liu’s writing is strong, the plot intricate and engaging. But what really stands out for me is the artwork. Takeda’s illustrations are beautiful and bring the story alive more than I would have expected. Takeda is able to capture everything, from the anguish and pain that characters feel, to the anger and violence of those coming after Maika and the people around her.
Monstress is not without humor, though. There are moments, and characters, who lighten the mood. The lighthearted moments are few and far between, but they are skillfully added and feel very real. Even the darkest of stories needs a little bit of a pause sometimes.
From talking cats to, my favorite, Kippa who is a fox girl (she is seen below), the cast of Monstress is sweepingly broad and equally as beautiful and dangerous. I cannot recommend this book enough. It seems to be a good fit for teen readers who like graphic novels with strong female characters or any adult who enjoys well-written and illustrated graphic novels.
I got my copy from the library, but you can get it from Image Comics or Amazon. Volume 2 comes out in July and I can’t wait.