Science fiction and fantasy
Monstress Volume One: Awakening
by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
The mood is intense and terrifying, with gruesome scenes and death never far away. Sometimes the narrative switches back to the past, whether to the recent war or to more peaceful times, although there's a sense of foreboding and mystery that overshadows these flashbacks. There are few, if any, jokes. The only thing that lightens the story are the cute children, particularly the part fox girl called Kippa. However, the presence of adorable children doesn't mean that they're immune from getting hurt or killed, and very early in the story we're shown that nobody is safe. All of the above means that the tension varies between high and through the roof.
The art is fabulous. The colours are mostly washed out and muted, but the dress and surroundings are beautifully intricate. Sana Takeda's attention to detail is a delight, and the characters' faces are clearly distinguishable from each other even though many of them are conventionally pretty. There's a lack of men due to a matriarchal society, which is noticeable because in a graphic novel aimed at older readers it's such a rarity to see women playing so many roles. Here they get to be heroes, villains, oppressors, sidekicks, and much more.
If Monstress has a flaw it's that a few of Maika's adversaries lack nuance and seem to be relentlessly evil without any indication of what's behind their hatred. So the story is very dark, with a high emotional impact. However, it's also layered with metaphor, and there seems to be a serious message behind it. The creators are using magic and monsters to discuss themes of difference, war, propaganda and fear, and this resonates with what's happening in the modern world. So in spite of a handful of over the top characters, most of the characters in the story are much more enigmatic. This is a rich book with sumptuous art, and there's far more to it than is obvious on the first reading.
26th August 2016
If you like this, try:God’s War by Kameron Hurley
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: own copy
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