Monstress, Vol 1: Awakening by Marjorie M. Liu

“To quote the poets… we’re fucked.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 208 pages.
Read from July 8, 2020 to July 9, 2020.

After some high praise and recommendations from many avid readers, I waited patiently for this stunning graphic novel to become available at my library. It took about a year but my library finally added this series.

In the steampunk setting of the glamorous city of  Zamora, Maika, a young teen is looking for answers and revenge. The Cumaea fear the magical Arcanics and the war has taken inhumane turns against the Arcanics as a result of this fear. Maika is Arcanic but looks human, not that it stopped her from being persecuted, enslaved and worse during the peak of the war. Maika is a hardened survivor of war, trauma, and abuse, who also happens to share a mysterious link to an ancient demon making her immensely powerful, feared, and wanted. Maika struggles to control this entity within her as she also struggles to cope with the trauma that this war has left her and the relationships she may have sabotaged.  As you learn more about what has shaped Maika, you come to see how deep her trauma is and how hardened to emotion is she has become.

Monstress is one of the most imaginative stories I’ve ever read, especially when accompanied with the stunning artwork that is both gorgeous and at times shockingly gruesome. Trauma, which is a central part of Monstress, was inspired by the author’s grandmother, who escaped Japanese occupation during WWII. This additional personal detail really adds a further layer of depth to this already emotional plot. The artwork is perfectly paired with this story as the images are emotional, raw, dark and brutal, just like war. The story also emboldens women and feminine strength with both the protagonist and antagonists of the stories, the society that Maika lives in is also matriarchal.

My one complaint with this story is there is a lot of detail to take in for a graphic novel. It was difficult to get the full scope of the world that Maika and her companions live in as it’s of a lot of details to take in at one time. I often found myself back tracking to go over a detail I missed or didn’t retain. In some ways I wish that this graphic novel had been written as novel with accompanying images. Yes, it would have made the book a lot longer but I think it would have helped to make it easier to digest the world and history Zamora. It was clever to have the Professor delve out these history lessons as interludes between chapters but they were long and winded at times which is what made me think a proper novel might have lent itself better to the story, with the images as well, of course. The artwork is just as central to this story as the plot itself.

I’m thrilled to have such a unique series to read and can’t wait to see what is next for Maika and how the rest of the story will unfold. I would highly recommend this to anyone who loves graphic novels, fantasy, war stories, or just an appreciation for moving, beautiful and brutal artwork.

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

“Nothing you can take from me was ever worth keeping.”

3/5 stars.
ebook, 528 pages.
Read from June 23, 2020 to June 28, 2020.

I was surprised at how little hype this book generated considering the popularity of The Hunger Games series. I saw it pop up on Goodreads and thought to myself, how did I only hear about this book now?! The book is a prequel The Hunger Game series and is meant to answer many of the questions fans had about the Hunger Games themselves and the world created by the author. Questions like how The Hunger Games came to be, how the war shaped the districts and how Coriolanus Snow came to be the awful man that is depicted in the series.

The war has recently ended and The Hunger Games is the new punishment that the Capitol has come up with for the uprise of the districts. In its infancy, the contestants of The Hunger Games are not celebrities like they are in the games of Katniss’ era. They are starved and tortured and as a result, the districts care little to watch their friends and neighbours suffer on television. Coriolanus Snow is just 18 years old and his family is out of money after the war despite his family’s long and illustrious history within the Capitol. He is, however, an excellent student and has been selected to help mentor this year’s Hunger Games, something that has never been done before. Coriolanus is initially disappointed as he is given the district 12 girl, Lucy, of which he initially believes that she will have no chance of winning thus effecting his placement and potential scholarship into further schooling as well as the future of his family. However, there is something about this girl as she manages to capture the media’s attention with a snake mishap and when she sings and performs a song after her selection. Her ability to win the crowd is intriguing and Coriolanus is nothing if not adaptable and seizes the opportunity to use this to his advantage. He eventually comes to care deeply for his tribute and begins to question the essence of the games and their moral purpose.

I mostly enjoyed this novel. It was interesting to get the back story on The Hunger Games and the growth of Coriolanus Snow however, this book was way too long. It’s clear the author was able to get away with a longer novel due to the success of her previous novels. I believe this novel would have been more successful had the story been halved. Further, the characters were not as robust as they were in the other books. Lucy could have been an extremely interesting character but she just fell flat for me and I didn’t feel as invested in her as I did with, say, Katniss. I was unsure of her motives and how she was able to trust Coriolanus the way she did. I just did not feel as invested in Lucy’s story or in that of Coriolanus’ since he true character started to show fairly quickly and if you’ve read the remainder of the series, you already know what type of person he becomes which steals some of the intrigue this story could have had.

I think the fans of The Hunger Games series were hoping for something that was equally as good and exciting and I, unfortunately, don’t think this novel quite met that need. If you are a fan of the series, however, this book is still worth reading especially if you had questions or wanted to know more about the history around The Hunger Games.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

“We’re stretched thin, all of us; we vibrate; we quiver, we’re always on the alert. Reign of terror, they used to say, but terror does not exactly reign. Instead it paralyzes. Hence the unnatural quiet.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 378 pages.
Read from September 11, 2019 to September 17, 2019.

The much-anticipated sequel of The Handmaid’s Tale is finally here! I couldn’t wait for a library copy for this one so I went ahead and splurged and got the ebook on its release date.

The Testaments follows, not one, but three different female characters that are apart of or connected to the highly moralistic realm of Gilead. This time, however, instead of focusing on the Handmaids, you finally get some insight into the lives of the Aunts and Wives and the general upbringing of girls in Gilead. Like in The Handmaid’s Tale, the story is narrated like a diary, journal, or rather testament from each character with a concluding academic look at them afterwards in which historians are studying these testaments as a piece of ancient history.

The Commanders and Aunts, and those who run Gilead are attempting to reclaim a baby named Nicole, whose mother snuck her out of Gilead to Canada through an organisation called Mayday. A high standing Aunt, who is at first anonymous, divulges all in a forbidden journal as she discusses the horrible trauma of how she was forced to be an Aunt and learning to survive under the new Gilead regime, as well as her desire to overturn it…  Daisy is a teen living in Canada and learns all about the strange and morally uptight people who live in Gilead. However, Daisy’s life changes forever when she attends a protest rally against the Gileads during some rising political tensions between the two countries… A young upper-class girl named Anges lives in Gilead and discusses growing up under the strict eyes of the Gilead regime and the expectations that she would be a wife at barely thirteen years of age… and of course what about Offred from The Handmaid’s TaleThe Testaments is the story of how all these women are connected.

The book clearly places in Gilead in the United States, likely on purpose considering the political atmosphere around women’s rights in the last few years, with Canada being the country that those from Gilead escape to. The writing style is consistent with The Handmaid’s Tale and it feels like you finally get a full picture into the world of Gilead, especially with how it all started and was maintained. I think the only thing I didn’t care for, which is something really petty, was that Daisy expressed love interest in Garth. It felt out of place and almost made me feel like I was reading a YA novel. What was worse is that literally nothing came out of it was dropped later on in the book. Besides that, the story was highly engaging and I especially enjoyed reading the Aunts testament since it was a perspective that wasn’t touched on in The Handmaid’s Tale.

This book is a must-read for those that enjoyed The Handmaid’s Tale and even for those who haven’t, as you could easily pick up this book without having read its predecessor, though I wouldn’t recommend it if you truly want the true scope and power of this story.