Friday Recs: Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Monstress_Vol1-1This 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.

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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.

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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.

Book Rec Tuesday: The Glamourist Histories (series) by Mary Robinette Kowal

During September, you’ll notice that I’m going to be experimenting a bit with the blog, including changing a few things up and trying to do better at weekly posting. Today’s experiment, as it were, is a combination between a book review and a book recommendation. I’ll still do my more comprehensive reviews (which I know I’m very behind on), but this is something new and hopefully more regular.

Technically this week’s book rec is actually a series, not just a single book. I’ll probably do more of these in the future as well. Some will be books, others series. Anyway, here’s the first.

The Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal

  1. Shades of Milk and Honey
  2. Glamour in Glass
  3. Without a Summer
  4. Valour and Vanity
  5. Of Noble Family

Let me preface this by saying that the only reason I picked up Shades of Milk and Honey was because I’d read some blog posts by Kowal and found them interesting and well written. I’d also heard (read) about her from several authors I like (including John Scalzi) and felt that I needed to check her books out. I’m so glad I did!

Often, The Glamourist Histories (the title of the series) are billed as Jane Austen with magic and in a way that’s exactly what they are. If you love Jane Austen and you love books with magic, you’ll love these. But for me, on the other hand, that description was a complete turn off. You see, I inhabit the minority position of not liking Jane Austen at all. Yes, I know, you’re all totally shocked because basically everyone loves Jane Austen. I don’t. I never have (though the Sense & Sensibility movie was all right, but that might be because I like Emma Thompson) and I doubt that will change.*

But, in spite of my reservations, my desire to read something of Kowal’s was stronger than my desire to avoid Jane Austen related books (this zombie title being the exception). And so, as soon as I could, I acquired a copy of Shades of Milk and Honey. Much to my delight, this was everything I felt Jane Austen’s books wanted to be — only better. I know, I’m not being fair to Austen, but sometimes that’s the way it goes. We can’t all love all the same things.

Kowal creates a world where Austen’s characters wouldn’t look out of place — aside from the fact that there is magic. No, really, magic and it is wonderful. Kowal does everything wonderfully, at least in my opinion. She creates the right amount of tension between our main character Jane, her sister, parents and the love interests and friends. All of Kowal’s side characters are as well developed as Jane. But what makes Shades of Milk and Honey so good is that it, by itself, is a complete novel. Yes, this is part of a series, but there’s no need to read more if you don’t want to.

But why would you want to stop? Short of spoiling you for the ending of Shades of Milk and Honey, I will just say that there are many reasons to continue to read this series. Not the least of them is because the adventures that Jane gets up to are on par with some of my favorite urban fantasy/Victorian “romances” that I enjoy. Yes, I suppose you could also call The Glamourist Histories romances, but they are really Regency romances and I’m strangely fine with that. Apparently if you dump a little magic into a story I might otherwise dislike, I’m going to like it (see: Among Others (I’m currently listening to this on audio) by Jo Walton, which is set in 1970s/80s United Kingdom and Night Circus, my review).

If you want something with a bit of romance, a bit of adventure, a bit of women being generally awesome and a great cast of side characters, please don’t hesitate to check out The Glamourist Histories. It’s fun, lovely and what Kowal does with magic is wonderful. It, like her characters, grows and changes as the story does. I look forward to her next book (#6) which is due out in in April of 2015.

 

*I have a theory that if I had been introduced to Jane Austen via audio book, I might have enjoyed them. I started to read some Jeeves and Wooster, only to quit because I thought they were far, far too dumb. But then I decided to listen to one on audio and fell completely in love. I think, at least for me, certain books are best enjoyed in audio form. Unfortunately, the ship has sailed for Jane Austen. Even though I could get them in audio, I have absolutely no interest in reading them.
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