Monstress Volume One: Awakening by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

The Blurb On The Back:

Set in an alternate world of art deco beauty and steampunk horror, MONSTRESS tells the epic story of Maika Halfwolf, a teenage survivor of a cataclysmic war between humans and their hated enemies, the Arcanics.  In the face of oppression and terrible danger, Maika is both hunter and hunted, searching for answers about her mysterious past as those who seek to use her remain just one step behind … and all the while, the monster within begins to awaken …  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

17-year-old Maika Halfwolf is a teenage Arcanic (a race of magical beings, many of which have animal attributes) searching for answers from the Cumae (witches who serve the human world) about the death of her mother.  To do so she purposely gets herself captured and sold as a slave to the Cumae, who use Arcanics for cruel experiments and utilise body parts to boost their own magic.  But infiltrating the Cumae’s stronghold brings her more questions than answers and her plans for revenge are hindered by a fox-tailed Arcanic girl who sees her as both protector and foe, and a twin-tailed cat who strongly disapproves of what she’s doing but neither can compete with the true danger – the voice inside Maika’s head that’s threatening to burst loose and take control …

The first volume in Marjorie Liu’s and Sana Takeda’s dark fantasy graphic novel series is a sumptuous, violent affair that marries power, revenge and dark secrets into a sophisticated plot that requires effort to follow but rewards you for sticking with it and offers complicated characters who cross and double cross each other and who I care about enough to want to read Volume 2.

The main thing to be aware of is that the plot does jump between time frames as more is given of Maika’s back story while some scenes are shown from the point of view of the Cumae’s Holy Mother without any warning, which I found a little jarring.  However I did love the intermission scenes of lectures from Professor Tam Tam, which provide background on the world in which the characters live.  There’s a lot of set-up here but the various plot lines and hints at where the story is going had me intrigued as to where it’s going and I loved the fact that Liu and Takeda have so many strong female characters in the book (both good and evil and somewhere in between).

Maika is an interesting character driven by revenge but also having to face her literal inner demons.  I found her callousness and single-minded determination to be fascinating and refreshing, as is the traces of guilt she demonstrates following some of her actions.  I also loved the fox-tailed girl who serves as Maika’s conscience and is both scared by her and knows she needs her protection and Ren, a nekromancer cat who strongly disapproves of what Maika is doing.

Takeda’s illustrations are wonderful – influenced by turn of the 19th century themes they’re dynamic and evocative and the imagination on display is awe-inspiring and her fight scenes are particularly good (if bloody!).

All in all I found this a great read and the twist at the end means that I’ll definitely be checking out Volume 2.

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