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.