Ever since a mysterious power wiped out thousands at Constantine, an uneasy truce has held between the Federation of Humans and the Arcanic, individuals who have a mix of human and animal characteristics. The balance is thrown out of alignment when Maika Halfwolf, a seventeen year old Arcanic, breaks into the Cumea’s stronghold to interrogate a woman whom she believes has answers about a certain event that turned her into what she has become. As Maika seeks answers about the monster within her, forces that have long laid dormant start to awaken.

Monstress’s initial draw is the gorgeous art. Sana Takeda’s lush, color illustrations take on a luminescent quality in places, and her character designs are dynamic and expressive. The art supports the words through effectively conveying characters’ emotions and revealing instances where the words aren’t being truthful. The intricate backgrounds further contribute to an immersive experience.

Maika’s story draws readers into a world broken by war and plagued by racism and exploitation. Maika’s journey itself only experiences minimal advancement in this volume, as the story focuses on Maika’s backstory and the events that influence the current conflicts. Liu offers tantalizing details and hints to pull readers into the story and keep them engaged. Some hints about the world’s history and setting are clarified through much-needed one-page lectures delivered by a charming feline professor, but there is still plenty to discover in future volumes. Due to multiple groups and storylines that are frequently introduced with minimal context, the story can occasionally become difficult to follow. Monstress definitely requires a close reading and maybe even multiple readings in order to fit the story together, but the beautiful art and story create an engrossing experience that makes the effort worth it.

Even though Monstress’s world and story are filled with dark elements, positive elements help to provide a balance and create a nuanced story. This positivity is frequently exemplified in the young fox Arcanic, Kippa, who is able to see Maika’s goodness, and sticks with her, even though Maika is terrifying. Even Maika, whose penchant toward violence frequently creates carnage and conflict, contributes to that positivity. Little details such as Maika’s love for her friend Tuya, and glimpses into the fear, anger, and hope that drive her, make Maika an intriguing and sympathetic character whose journey readers will want to follow. Additionally, some humor and snarky comments from various cast members further balance the story.

The first volume of Monstress effectively sets up an immersive setting and story that will leave readers eager for more. Nudity, brutal violence, adult language, and horror elements lead this reviewer to agree with the publisher’s mature rating. Fans of dark fantasy and horror looking for a rich setting and compelling story will likely enjoy this title, and Monstress should enjoy a place in most adult collections.

Monstress, Vol. 1: Awakening
by Marjorie Liu
Art by Sana Takeda
ISBN: 9781632157096
Image, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: M (Mature)

  • Megan

    | She/Her

    Features Writer

    Megan earned her MLIS from Simmons College and is currently the evening librarian at Bay State College in Massachusetts. She satisfies her voracious appetite for graphic novels and manga through regular visits to her local public libraries and puts her love of graphic novels to good use by adding to Bay State’s collection whenever possible. Megan maintains a personal blog, Ferret with a Strobe Light, where she discusses awesome books she’s read lately. When not engaged in reading or library work, she likes running, drinking tea, and working on her own stories and art.

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