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Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening by Marjorie…
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Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening

by Marjorie M. Liu, Sana Takeda (Illustrator)

Other authors: Jennifer M. Smith (Editor), Rus Wooton (Designer)

Series: Monstress (Volume 1)

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Showing 1-5 of 26 (next | show all)
graphic novel,
  MetroIWSS | Jul 3, 2017 |
OH my goodness, yes, give me all of this! What an amazing collection - storytelling, art, characters, wold building - so fantastic. The ONLY thing that kept this from being a 5-star read was the sheer volume of information - I'm still not sure I completely understood everything that was happening. But good heavens, I can't wait to jump back into this world. ( )
  NeedMoreShelves | Jul 2, 2017 |
The most important thing to know about Monstress is that it is, quite simply, a beautiful book. Yes, it has an intriguing story. Yes, it has a collection of interesting characters. Yes, it has an exotic and almost ethereal setting. But the one defining feature of this book is that it is full of some of the most beautiful artwork to be found in a graphic novel. It is also a brutal and gripping story about a young woman who is more than she seems, and the harsh and unforgiving but beautiful, and at times dazzling, world that she lives in.

As the first book in a new series, Awakening is heavy on world-building and character development, and somewhat light on plot development. That isn't to say that there isn't a story here, it is just that the story is, for the most part, used to give exposition and background relating to the overarching conflict to set the stage for the story of the main characters rather than delving into the stories of the characters in the book. The basic framework is that the world is divided into two regions, one controlled by humanity and the other controlled by the mystical "arcanics" who are essentially a collection of various mystical beings, some of which look almost human, while others have wildly exotic forms. Humanity is dominated by the Cumea, a religious organization of warrior -nuns possessed of mystical powers whose mission seems to be to rid the world of arcanics, while the arcanics are divided into two ostensibly allied groups: The Dusk Court and the Dawn Court. The two sides were at war in the past, but are now settled into an uneasy, watchful peace kept mostly because the Cumea were frightened by a powerful weapon the arcanics used to end the last conflict between the races.

Complicating matters somewhat, there are a trio of other races in this world, the most prominent of which is the sneaky and inquisitive cat race, identifiable by the many tails. The cats believe themselves to be the oldest (and most important) race, although most everyone else in the story seems to think of them as dangerous nuisances who are not to be trusted. One of the interesting conceits of the story is that every so often the book steps away from the narrative for a little time in the classroom with a cat professor giving a lesson on the history of the world and its inhabitants. The other two races in the setting are the beast-like Ancients and the enigmatic and terrible Old Gods. The Ancients seem to bear more than a passing resemblance to ancient Egyptian deities, and their indulgence in human sexual partners is apparently the reason for the existence of arcanics. The Old Gods are Lovecraftian entities, inscrutable and horrific who were driven from the world in ages past, much to the relief of all of the other inhabitants of this fantasy realm.

The opening page of Monstress shows the story's protagonist, an arcanic named Maika, naked and seemingly vulnerable, about to be sold as a slave before one of the warrior-nuns of the Cumea claim her and several other arcanics for sale as "donations". This apparent helplessness is deceptive however, and serves as a metaphor for much of the book. Maika is, in actuality, the most dangerous person in the room, possessed of a secret that makes her a threat to everyone around her. This theme is replicated in several other points throughout the book - the cute and cuddly looking multi-tailed cats are actually crafty spies, wise lore masters, and deadly assassins, the Cumean warrior-nuns despise arcanics and yet depend upon them for their abilities, and so on. Time and again, what is presented on the surface is inverted when one looks below the surface, a fact that looms large when one realizes exactly what Maika's secret is, and what it might mean for both her and the rest of the world around her. One might note, however, that these are only impressions: One gets the feeling that none of the viewpoints in the book are entirely reliable, and some are clearly engaged in outright deception.

Despite being a beautifully illustrated book, Monstress is quite a dark story. The book's tone isn't quite "grimdark", but it is just shy of it. The Cumea are quite ruthless as villains, and there are several sequences that are not merely violent but are over the top in their savagery. What makes these scenes truly chilling is that they are often undertaken by the characters in an almost casual manner - highlighting the fact that for the Cumea, for example, dissecting arcanic children and harvesting their organs is simply another task in a routine day's work. But it isn't merely that the villainous Cumea are given to vicious actions and offhand betrayal of their own, but so are their opponents, raising the question of whether any of the competing factions in this fictional world are actually "good guys". To be blunt, this book pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the depravity to which people will sink if they believe that their enemies are not even people. Even Maika displays an almost shocking level of callousness at times, and of course, the dark secret she holds is deadly to those around her - a fact that she hides even from many of those well-disposed to her, with some fairly tragic consequences. This isn't a story for the faint-hearted or for those looking for some light entertainment. It is a book about a terrifying monster who behaves like a terrifying monster and is still the most admirable individual in the story.

In the end, however, everything about Monstress comes back to the artwork. The story is brutal and dark, the protagonist morally suspect, the villains horrific, and the scenario makes everything seem dire, but it is all done so beautifully that it is impossible not to be carried right into the story. The lush depictions create an atmosphere that pervades the book with an almost perfectly ghastly allure that is both enticing and repellent at the same time. All of the elements of the story are well-done, but without the feeling of desolate magnificence that results from the depicted scenes, the parts would merely add up to an average final product. The artwork, however, elevates this book well above the ordinary, filling it with an ominous sense of dread that is both frightening and delicious.

This review has also been posted to my blog Dreaming About Other Worlds. ( )
  StormRaven | Jul 1, 2017 |
Pretty good. In terms of atmosphere it has a Full Metal Alchemist feel, with science-magic and mysterious horrors, some with tentacles, possibly humans-turned-demons. The worlding is interesting. According to the short lectures of the esteemed Professor Tam Tam, which are interspersed between the chapters of the volume and provide most of the history, you have: the Old Gods (Cthulhu, anyone?), the Humans, the Ancients, the Half-breeds (Arcanics), and the Cats. Having just finished binge reading Saga, the interbreeding between the Ancients and the Humans that formed the Arcanics, plus the whole setting of war between races, was a familiar set-up. But my interest is piqued so far.

I just hate how they're doing that thing again where the people you think are your enemies turn out to be friends, and vice versa. What's up with Tuya, and Atena and her brother? And don't think I've forgotten about Ilsa's daughter. Next thing you know that cute little fox Kippa is actually a spy, and Yvette has been Mariko's friend all along. Eugh. But we shall see. ( )
  mrsrobin | Jun 24, 2017 |
Monstress is a darkly enchanting story told in comic book format. I read a bound version that collected the first six issues into something more akin to a graphic novel. I’m not generally much of a comic book reader (although I’ve picked up a bit of Ms. Marvel), but I just kept hearing such wonderful things about Monstress. And once I read it, I knew it was something I needed to review.

Monstress is a fantasy story, set in a world divided between two principal groups: the humans and the Arcanics. The Arcanics are the half human children of the immortal ancients, grown so numerous in number that they make up their own distinct group, gifted with some of the powers of their parents. Humans have no magic and are under the sway of the Cumaea, a group of priestesses who preach the purity of the human race and cannibalize Arcanics for the magic in their bones. Before the start of Monstress, the humans and Arcanics were at war, but now a tenuous peace exists.

Into this danger walks Maika Halfwolf, a stunning antiheroine. As is common in the fantasy genre, she’s an orphan with a mysterious past. After her mother’s death, Maika became a slave. Although she eventually escaped, she’s now risking everything by letting herself get sold to the Cumaea to learn more about her past. For Maika is not alone in her own skin. Dwelling inside of her is a monster, who’s dark hunger puts everyone around Maika at risk.

Maika may never have wanted to be monstrous, but that’s what she is now. She may try not to be dangerous, but she can’t escape the fact of what she is. And even beyond the monster within her skin, Maika is more than willing to commit acts of violence to meet her goals. She’s someone who has survived in a world of warfare and slavery, and that survival has shaped her into who she is now. While she’s not a protagonist who I’d want to be friends with, she is a very compelling character.

Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda populate their fantastical world with a remarkable variety of female characters. Maika is far from the only well written woman you’ll find within these pages. For starters, there’s her companion, Kippa… who I actually thought was male when I was reading the comic. Then I looked at other reviews and it turns out Kippa’s a girl. Oops! Beyond Kippa, there’s all of the Cumaea, the witches who retain control over the humans. The Cumaea are all female, and I get the impression that their society is distinctly matriarchal. While the Cumaea are mainly villains, the story hints that some of them want to change the hostility between humans and Archanics.

Sana Takeda’s art work absolutely blows me away. It’s exquisitely beautiful, and I adore the art nouveau style of many of the panels. The art is just so gorgeous! It’s easily the some of the best artwork I have ever seen in a graphic novel or comic. The art style also worked amazingly well with the story and world being presented. The world of Monstress is dark, magical, and complex. Takeda’s art wonderfully conveyed those characteristics.

If Monstress has one flaw, it’s that I found it a very confusing read. So much happens so quickly that it can be hard to keep up with. I don’t know when I’m supposed to be wondering about something or when I wasn’t catching the plot. Maybe it’s my own fault as a reader? I’m not a usual reader of graphic novels or comics.

Reading Monstress was a spellbinding experience. I was utterly transported to the world of Liu and Takeda’s imagining. For all the darkness of this story – war, slavery, murder, destruction, death – I never once thought about quitting. Monstress has snared my heart, and I will be eager to get a hold of the next collection. I only wonder why I waited so long to read this first volume.

Originally posted on The Illustrated Page. ( )
  pwaites | May 31, 2017 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Marjorie M. Liuprimary authorall editionscalculated
Takeda, SanaIllustratormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Smith, Jennifer M.Editorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Wooton, RusDesignersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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