Book Review: Monstress, Volume One - Awakening by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Staff Writer By: Ricky Grove (gToon)
MONSTRESS, Volume One - Awakening
There are popular novels and then there are popular novels that are works of art. What separates the two? Ideas, for one. A novel that takes tired cliches and re-imagines them in the context of personal experience and a deep understanding of human nature will always draw you deep into its imagined world, while one that simply re-presents the same tired cliches and ideas (however well presented) will be forgotten not long after it's read. No wonder some novels are called "beach reads" as they are disposable like the bottled water you buy for a Sunday beach session.
Monstress 1 is definitely a work of art and a stylish one at that. Written by author/lawyer Marjorie Liu with brilliant illustrations and design by Sana Takeda, Monstress 1 is an moving reading experience. I should probably say that this is a graphic novel, but it seems to me that this distinction is becoming less and less necessary.
Briefly, Monstress 1 (the first of series published by Image comics) is the story of a young, disfigured female warrior set in an alternate Asia who is possessed by powerful ancient spirit. She finds herself trapped in the political intrigues of a fantasy world that is dark and disturbing. Animal characters abound with cats being the major historians and who help guide our heroine in her attempt to find out who she is and who her mother was.
The above story summary, although necessary, is inadequate to describe the incredible variety of scenes in Monstress 1 or the amazing quality of the human/monster/animal characters that appear in the story. It's a very creative re-working of the coming-of-age story combined with political intrigue and an archeologists sense of history and decay. The story of X is one that is unexpected and sad/exciting. Angry and prone to outbursts, x is nevertheless a deeply wilful and passionate hero. The fact that she is female is deliberate and goes a long way to make her story so compelling and unique.
Telling the story of Monstress visually is not an easy task, but artist Sana Takeda does it brilliantly. Combining elements of western artists like Odilon Redon with eastern manga sty
What's impressive about Sana's artwork is how detailed it is and yet it doesn't overwhelm a scene. Plus, backgrounds blend so well with the characters inner states and outer actions. In fact, the art is so wonderful that you find yourself wishing there were less dialogue bubbles so you can see more of the art. And every scene is often whelmed in darkness like a vignette which produces a sense of doom and inevitability. This is a remarkable accomplishment given the fact that so many fantasy graphic novels are so bright and colorful (almost like cartoons or animation).
I usually dismiss most blurbs on a book I read (they are often done by friends of the author), but in the case of Monstress Volume One, Neil Gaiman's statement is worth closing this review with:
Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda take Eastern and Western comics storytelling traditions and styles, and create somethng whololy their own and remarkable; a beautifully told story of magic and fear, inhumanity and exploitation, of what it means to be human, and the monsters we all carry inside of us. Also, some of the best cats in comics. A delight.
XX give info on how to buy. links to both authors sites and image comic site