Book Review: Monstress by Marjorie Liu

In commemoration of Women’s History Month, I chose to review a graphic novel made by women, of women, and for all.  In a rare team-up, the author (Marjorie Liu), illustrator (Sana Takeda), and editor (Jennifer M. Smith) are all women, and they created the spectacular series, Monstress.  Fellow graphic novel readers who love the likes of Saga by Brian K. Vaughn, or Lazarus by Greg Rucka, should definitely add Monstress to your reading lists.

Liu, Takeda, and Smith draw readers into a Steampunk fantasy world that is torn asunder by war between the sentient magical creatures called Arcanics, and the humans who believe themselves to be the superior beings of existence.  Lording over all of this is a society of sorceresses called the Cumaea who use the Arcanics as slaves and consume them to enhance their magical powers.  (Hey, if you can’t get magical powers on your own, eat some.  You are what you eat, after all.)

In this setting is the story of Maika Halfwolf, an Arcanic slave to the Cumaeans.  In Spartacus fashion, she breaks out of her bondage and frees other Arcanics with her.   However, Maika is not an abolitionist at heart.  Instead, her focus is on discovering what in her past and that of her murdered mother ties them to the Cumaeans.  This tie has bonded her to a “monster” that feeds on the living, human or Arcanic, and haunts her soul with tormenting questions and mysteries.  Because of this monster and its implications (and the fact that she’s a slave on the run), Maika, a cute Arcanic fox-girl, and a wise cat set out to escape and learn the mysteries that make her and her mother so important/despised to Arcanic, humans, and Cumaeans alike.

Although this is a female-dominated graphic novel set in a female-dominated world, it’s not a whimsical story of faeries and princesses, nor is it a man-hating, über-feminist graphic novel.  It is simply a story written by women with a strong cast that happens to be predominantly women.  With thought-provoking writing and gorgeous graphics, these characters are heroic, evil, weak, strong, and flawed.  In Game of Thrones fashion, these characters plot revenge, form alliances, protect, murder, torture, and rescue each other for their own advancement or for the sake of their race with witty and sometimes even goofy humor smuggled in between the excitement.  Readers be advised: This graphic novel contains unflinching violence, adult language, nudity, and adult situations.  It’s not recommended for younger eyes or the faint of heart.

At times I found the novel confusing because the story line is not linear.  Although it jumps around, once I got started, it was pretty easy to catch on.  The characters and the story are so engaging that I pretty much forgot about gender. I was more intrigued with the characters and the many mysteries this series has yet to solve, like, what happened to Maika’s left arm?  Where is her friend Tuya in all of this?  And why is that cat so invested in following and advising Maika?  Thankfully volume 2 comes out this June.  I am most definitely on the request list and eagerly anticipate more intrigue, mayhem, and ponderings that these ladies have to offer.

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