Monday, November 28, 2016

"There's more hunger in the world than love." - Monstress, Volume 1

In case you thought I only reviewed books about gloom and doom in America, DON'T WORRY.  I also review books about gloom and doom in fantasy worlds!  And Monstress, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, is a SUUUUUUUUPER good fantasy comic about gloom and doom.

I had never heard of Monstress before.  I went to an indie bookstore for Small Business Saturday, and after we finished at the bookstore, my brother-in-law asked if we could go to a local comic bookstore, too.  I said yes.  I admit that I usually find comic bookstores quite intimidating, but the people at the one I went to were so nice!  And they had this wall of best-selling comics, and it thrilled me to see how many of those best-sellers were ones that featured women.  So of course, I felt the need to support both the indie store and female empowerment, and I purchased this book.

I don't know if I would have picked up Monstress if I had known how violent it is.  Or how many dark subjects it tackles.  But I'm so glad I didn't know those things and picked it up because it was SO GOOD!

(I hope that you are not the same as I am and that knowing the book is violent and dark will not drive you away from it, because that would be a mistake.)

Monstress is about many things, and I admit that I am vague on a lot of the details because it was also a bit confusing.  But it doesn't really matter because it is amazing.  The artwork is absolutely stunning, and brings to life a world that is complicated and can be difficult to grasp.  Takeda puts a huge amount of detail into each panel.  The dark color scheme she uses perfectly captures a world in the midst of an endless war.  The rich detail in the panels shows the level of sophistication that the civilizations have reached, and the trade-offs between culture and war (and how one can often drive the other).  The characters are all beautifully drawn, including a SERIOUSLY ADORABLE little fox named Kippa.  Honestly, I feel like a lot of people will judge me for this, but I generally don't find animals that fascinating.  Like, I know that puppies and kittens are sweet and cute, and I like looking at them sometimes, too, but I don't get squealy and excited or feel the need to pet them.  But Kippa just stole my heart, mostly because of how vulnerable and sweet she was, and how she would hold her tail for security like a blanket.  It's a little strange at first to see these doll-like faces (Kippa is not the only one with the perfect, adorable face) on such fierce characters, but hey, heroines come in all forms.

The artwork is great, but when you combine it with the story and the characters, the whole effect is quite pleasing.

I cannot believe I have gotten this far in my review without mentioning that this comic series is all about women.  There was probably one main male character in this story (and possibly a male cat, but I'm not sure of the cat's gender).  All the "good guys," all the "bad guys" - none of them are guys at all!  And it's not a story that's obviously about women the way Lumberjanes is.  (Though being obviously about women is totally fine, too!  I was just making a comparison in that Lumberjanes is more vocally about women and the role of women vs Monstress is about the story and features women and the fact that it features women is the statement.)

I used to read a lot of epic fantasy, the multi-volume, 500+-page per volume variety that focused a lot on building a world and a lot on sharing that world's history and a lot on character development.  I would say that Liu is a pretty amazing epic fantasy storyteller.  She populates her world with a complex group of characters, none of whom have clear motivations or loyalties or goals (except the adorable Kippa!  She's perfect in every way!).  The main character is Maika, who is clearly very, very powerful but who also has a monster living inside her.  Maika is trying to learn more about her past and who she is, but she has blackout moments when she must feed this monster inside of her.  (With, er, people.)  She tries to fight it, but, well, it's a monster (artistically rendered as a lot of tentacles and eyes), and that's hard work.

The monster at first seems like a straightforward villain, but as you get deeper into the story, you realize the monster also is confused and unsure of what to do.  Maika works hard to make the right decisions for herself, and the monster works hard to make the right decisions for itself, but the two have to work together to do what is best for both of them.  Hopefully, anyway, as no one really knows what is the best course of action.  Even at the end of this book, it's unclear whether Maika is being hunted so that people can harness her power or so that she can be killed.

I mentioned a long, on-going war.  There is one, and it's about one race exploiting another race for power.  This seems pretty standard for a lot of fantasy and science fiction novels, but it's still a very important storyline to drill into people's heads, and I liked Liu's take on it.  She has a lot here to develop and nurture over the course of the next several volumes, and I can see this becoming a very rich and rewarding series.


  1. I definitely enjoyed this. Looking forward to the sequel!

  2. Well, I had no plans to read this but you've convinced me to give it a go.

  3. So I'm already excited about Monstress (if my library would just get it in!!), and hence my main takeaway from this post is that I am deeeelighted you had a good comic book store experience! I too find comic book stores incredibly intimidating (in the sense that I've always got my dukes up when I walk into one), so I don't go into them nearly as much as I'd like to. YAY FOR YOUUUUU are you going to do more comic book store adventures in future?

    1. I don't know! I think probably yes in that there is SO MUCH MORE available in the comic bookstore than in the regular bookstore! And it was brightly lit and had so many feminist works available, rather than being dingy and populated by those creepy men who keep hijacking the Nebulas. So I would definitely go to that specific comic bookstore again, but I am still generally intimidated by comic bookstores. I don't know why I feel like you have to know the entire Marvel universe upon entering one to show your cred, but I do!

  4. This sounds like the kind of story I'm in the mood for right now. (I'm also doing the doom and gloom thing but mostly historical.) I'll see what the wait is like at the library!


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