book reviews

Review: Monstress Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu Illus. by Sana Takeda

Monstress by Marjorie Liu

Adult, Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Steampunk, Horror

3/5⭐️


Monstress Vol. 1 introduces us to a complex world of magic, steampunk, horror, and many different races of beings. Our MC, Maiko Halfwolf, is a teenage survivor of war. The story opens with Maiko on a search for the truth about her past. In doing so, she finds herself in perilous situations while her enemies are always just one step behind. She doesn’t know who, if anyone, she can trust, not even herself.

To quote the poets…We’re fucked.

I want to start by saying that the art style in this graphic novel is stunning. The art, coupled with the words “horror” and “steampunk”, are the main things that sold me when I was considering picking this up. And I must say that I was not let down. This story is everything that it promised to be. 

There is more to me than just the hunger, Tuya. There’s more than death. More than pain. I’m going to find out what that is…

Not only that but this is an own voices story. The author is Chinese-American and I believe the illustrator is Japanese, but don’t quote me on that one. The author states that this story was largely inspired by her Chinese grandparents who survived through World War II and all the unspeakable atrocities visited upon them during that time. Knowing this story stems from something so personal for the author just added to the experience as a whole. I’ve always loved asian-inspired artwork and anime and this book is chock full of that beautiful artistry. I think my favorite character is the little fox girl, Kippa. She has the sweetest little face and personality that is so refreshing in a book overrun with cruelty, madness, and gore. Another aspect that I quite liked was the prevalence of cats and how they are perceived-or at least perceive themselves to be-the oldest and wisest of all creatures. Throughout the storyline there are breaks in the narrative where you are given excerpts of lectures from the “Esteemed Professor Tam Tam” in which a professorial cat with many tails (I have a feeling the number of tails a cat has speaks to it’s age or power but I don’t know that for sure) appears to be giving history lessons to the kits about the politics of the world. I thought this a really cute addition to the story. 

There’s nothing more important than being…Loyal. Isn’t that right…Master Ren?

There is only one aspect of this graphic novel that hindered me from giving it a 4- or 5-star review. That being the fact that I found the politics, the world, and the parts everyone played to be extremely complex and hard to follow. I had to constantly go back in the story looking for references to things in an attempt to understand the reasoning behind things or to try and interpret the relationship between characters. There are five races of beings in this world: Humans, Ancients, Cats, The Old Gods, and the Arcanics, which are the offspring between the Ancients and Humans. Then on top of the five races you have courts within races and groups within groups. Just when I thought I had figured out who was who (which is hard because a lot of the time there is no consistency between races to indicate which they belong to) a character or a group of characters would be referred to as something else, usually one of these groups or courts within races. So, in the end it was hard to decipher who the enemies are or even where the MC fits into these races considering she’s yet another thing unto herself. Man, I’m tired just thinking about it! Thank God, or should I say, Professor Tam Tam, for his lectures throughout or I would have been completely confounded and possibly unable to follow this story at all. That being said, by the end of the book I felt like I had enough of a grasp on what was going on to continue with next installment and my fervent hope is that as I become more familiar with the world and characters that the puzzle that is this world will come together naturally. I want so much for this to happen because I am so thoroughly impressed with this series so far in almost every other way! It could also just be me that had an issue. I don’t know. I am fairly new to graphic novels but, so far, I haven’t had this trouble with others that I have read. If in the end the complex plot comes together really well it will be all the more enjoyable for sticking with it and untangling the mysteries the world has to offer.

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