Review: Monstress, Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

I’m going to start keeping records on how many books that bloggers scream about for one million years before I get around to reading them, and then when I finally do read them, it’s like “Well I should have done this a while ago.” Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s book Monstress, which in my defense has been checked out steadily from my library since the trade paperback came out (but I didn’t put a hold on it so it’s still my own fault), is one of those.

Monstress

You see that cover? Every page of Monstress is of equivalent, if not greater, beauty to that cover. Sana Takeda’s art is beautiful and dreamy and gives this work of fantasy an extraordinarily epic feel. The detail on every page is incredible, her characters feel lived-in, and with all of that, she doesn’t elide the brutality our main character, Maika, both faces and dispenses in just about every issue. I was hard-pressed not to screen-cap every page for y’all, because the art is just that gorgeous.

Monstress has received a huge amount of attention, deservedly, for the art, but the writing is also wonderful. I was warned repeatedly that Monstress was quite violent, and it is, in the manner of a lot of the secondary world fantasy I’ve encountered in my life. At the same time, it’s — can I say really fun? Is that glib? Our protagonist, Maika, is fighting against something evil that lives inside her, all the while trying to escape the many forces in her world that will stop at nothing to find her; and yes, that’s a recipe for violence and mayhem in secondary world fantasy. Maika is searching for answers about her own past and her mother’s, and she has a thing many people want and she is a thing many people want, and she has to find the answers before the bad guys find her. So when I say fun, I mean that this is a familiar type of story, which I enjoy, and it’s wonderful to see it played out so skillfully, with such superb worldbuilding, with end-of-issue surprises that make me gasp yet still feel completely earned, and with characters whose arcs over the course of the series I’m excited for.

LOOK AT THIS ADORABLE FOX GIRL MAIKA TRAVELS WITH

Marjorie Liu has said that she has deliberately written a book of only women — and as soon as she said it, I was like, “…Oh yeah. Oh hey. There are no men in this book.” Not actually zero, but very, very few. The soldiers are women, the slaves are women, the witches are women. It’s part of what makes this story so incredible, because what we see are a multiplicity of women with different ideas and motives and values — you know, a whole bunch of women portrayed as full people. Many of them women of color. In a comic written by two women of color. Doesn’t it make your heart grow three sizes? It does mine.

AND SERIOUSLY, THIS ART.

Particularly when you remember that Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda do not share a language and have to communicate with each other via a translator, this is an extraordinary marriage of the vision of art and writing. I love this comic to shreds and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

  • Jeanne

    I have a mind of text. I am not only unmoved by visual art, but often skip over it on the page. Sometimes you wake me up to how limiting this is.

    • Does this extend to art in, like, museums? Or is it just that when both art and text are available to you at once, you ignore the art in favor of the text?

      • Jeanne

        The second. Even in art museums, while Ron and Eleanor are looking at the art, I’m often reading the titles and descriptions on the little placard beside the art.

  • etudesque

    It’s so beautiful! :’)
    I’ve read graphic novels with beautiful art and super lazy storytelling – 100% vanity. I’ve also read incredibly moving, unforgettable stories with unfortunately shitty art, hahaha.
    So I think you’ve stumbled on the holy grail here?! I need to get my hands on a copy!

    • YES DO. It’s super fun, even though it’s dark, and just impossibly gorgeous on every page. I loved it.

  • I confess I still have not caught graphic novel fever. I can appreciate their art and their story-telling, but I never find myself wanting to read them. I do love how enthusiastic graphic novel readers are, and I get excited on their behalf when they are excited. So, while I may not want to read Monstress myself, I love how excited you are, and I can appreciate the beautiful art that you have shown us. I hope the rest of the series stays just as impressive for you!

    • I hope so too! I will say that what eventually got me into comics (after having a hard time with them) was that I decided I wanted to read Sandman because I loved Neil Gaiman, and I read all ten volumes. There’s a hump you have to get over with reading comics because it’s a different kind of reading, and finding something you care enough about to get you over that hump is a big part of becoming a comics fan. For what that’s worth! Or it also may be that they are just not for you. <3

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    The art! I know! I would just sit and stare at the pages because it is so gosh darn gorgeous. And I love the story too! I keep checking the library so as soon as volume 2 shows up I will be early in the queue. And I love the little fox girl and all the surprises in plot. Sooo goood!

    • It’s wonderful! I am so glad I finally heeded the thousands of bloggers who have been telling me to read it!

  • OMG I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!!! I so want to adopt the small fox-child and hug her every single day!!!! This is one that I will always scream at people to read – I even bought it for The Bestie for Christmas, so she has no excuses! I’m so glad that you liked it – Marjorie Liu is a favourite of mine, and this book is… *goes off into fangirling flails* XD <3

    • I LOVE IT SO MUCH, oh my gosh, I am sure your bestie was thrilllllled to get that from you for Christmas or if she is not thrilled yet SHE SOON WILL BE.

  • whatthelog

    I really need to read this!!

  • Thankfully, my library has added Hoopla, which has lots of awesome comics. Too bad that I have used up all my February credits, so now I have to wait until March to check this out. Waaah!

  • This sounds like a must-read x1000

  • Akilah

    That art work is gorgeous. I have to know, though: how creepy is it? Because I tried Saga but couldn’t get past the creepiness.

  • Kailana

    I loved this and am so excited for Volume 2!

  • I can’t wait to read this. It’s been on my TBR for a long time. That girl with the eagle? on her shoulder is so amazing!

  • Rachel

    I want to read this so bad, it’s still on my TBR. The artwork is gorgeous and the story looks so good!

  • I LOVE THIS SERIES SO MUCH <333

  • Wow, how beautiful! I’d not heard of this from other bloggers before, but it sounds incredible.

  • I get so damned excited whenever I think of Sana Takeda’s art. So. Damned. Excited.

  • Read Diverse Books

    Yessss!! 5 stars is the right score for this story. I was blown away by the scope, the story, the visuals and pretty much everything. I love how complex and nuanced the plot and charcters are.
    I am eagerly awaiting Volume 2, which I believe releases around my birthday. 😀