Normally, we do not make the habit of reviewing a book twice on this site, as Kathleen first reviewed Monstress last year, and she thought very highly of it. But…I am currently taking a Graphic Novel Selection class right now at Dominican University and it was required reading. I am so slammed for time, that if I had to read it and discuss it in class, you bet I was going to review it, as to save me time from reading another book this week.
Monstress is an epic story, that drops you into a rich tapestry that resembles a matriarchal Asia, without any explanation. You are required to hit the ground running, and pick up the complex history as you go along. There is no explanation until farther into the book, when a mystical cat gives some lessons in history to his pupils. Even then, it is but drops in a river of what is needed to understand this fantasy world. Another book that I read recently, The Wicked + The Divine, did this too, and I am not a fan of feeling muddled and confused.
Never the less, I read on ( I had to). We are introduced to Maika Halfwolf, a slave girl with a mysterious past. She is out for revenge, and deliberately left the safety of her side of the empire, to be able to exact revenge on the women who killed her mother. We meet the powerful Cumea, and are introduced to an assortment of Arcanic magical folk and humans who are all at the mercy of the cruel court who use dark magic to fuel their violent ways.
Themes of what truly makes you a monster run through out the narrative. And what of the creature that awakens in Maika? Can she break free of the inhumanity and exploitation that she has endured? So, while certain characters show kindness, they then turn around and kill the next moment. Reminiscent of Game of Thrones, do not become attached to certain people, as they might die on the next page.
While I found the storyline intriguing but frustrating, the art work is outstanding! Drawn in a steam punk/art deco style, Takeda’s work is precise and lovely. While you feel the story takes place in an alternate early 1900’s, the clothing that many wear are from many different regions and eras. Hints of what takes place in the current day vs the past are symbolized by white and black gutters, and her two pages spreads are gorgeous. The coloring is subdued, with a darkness that represents the monster growing within Maika. There was always a feel of twilight in the panels, as though darkness was just around the corner.
All in all, I give this a tepid thumbs up. While the art was perfect, and the world building complex, the confusion that I felt for much of the book ultimately was too much for me to truly enjoy the book. While I am willing to buy future volumes for my library, and for the patrons that enjoyed this fantasy series, I do not plan on reading further.