‘Monstress Volume One:’ Trade Paperback Review

Personal monsters takes on a whole new meaning in this compelling and unique universe by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda.

The story revolves around the former slave Maika, an Arcanic who is part-human and part-ancient. For many years, humans and Arcanics lived and worked together in peace. This ended when a group of scientists with magical capabilities (called The Cumaea) learned that the blood and bones of the Arcanics contained an element called “Lilium” which could not only heal humans, but bestow a very long life—almost to the point of immortality. A war broke out which ended in a stalemate when an ancient power was resurrected and destroyed a major city, killing a hundred and forty-six thousand between the two warring factions. In what amounts to a DMZ, a wall now separates humans from Arcanics; however, if an Arcanic is caught crossing it, they are enslaved and often become part of The Cumaea experiments. And then, there are the cats, but I’ll let you learn about them on your own.

Determined to find out more about her mother and what she was doing before she was murdered, Maika crosses into human territory and allows herself to be enslaved again; however, the real reason she is there is much darker and more personal. Maika holds within her another life force that might mean her salvation or her destruction. Before she is auctioned off to the highest bidder, the Mother Superior of The Cumaea in the city of Zamora claims her along with the rest of the Arcanic slaves to be harvested.  We quickly learn that Maika can be ruthless and compassionate, as she pursues the answers to her many questions all the while fighting literal and figurative demons.

The art is lush and beautiful, and the paneling moves with amazing fluidity. The action sequences rock, and you can see Ms. Takeda’s Manga influence, but don’t let some of the cutesy characters or the fact this is a female-driven fantasy fool you into thinking this is some light and fluffy comic—you would be dead wrong.  This world is bleak and harsh and forces us to take a hard look at what drives us. 

Ms. Liu’s storytelling takes us to another level.  You normally see this type of world building in a novel since it is so rich and diverse. The fact that she can pull it off is a lesson to all comic writers. I loved how she balanced the exposition by adding the lectures from Professor Tam Tam. I commend both Ms. Liu and Ms. Takeda on a tremendous job.  Go and read it now.

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