Monstress vol. 1: Awakening

Monstress Volume 1: Awakening - Marjorie M. Liu

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Actually, I received the first 6 parts, now gathered in this volume, so I thought I might as well review everything at once.

The 6 books are a blend between "traditional" comics and manga, especially in the themes and graphic style.

I found the art gorgeous—the cover got me interested even before I read what the book was about—with its seinen-style style softened in parts with rougher lines, and the way it pictures a civilisation both refined and savage, through the auction and the Cumaea, on a backdrop of war with "monsters" (the arcanics). The Cumaea reminded me of a kind of medieval-flavoured order of "nuns" who hunt and capture monsters to perform cruel scientific experiments on them. Also, characters reminiscent of eastern folklore, like the kitsune-type child, coexist with more "western" characters (the little cyclops or angel-winged kid). Said art remains impressive throughout the whole volume, able to convey both harshness and a certain softness: gorgeous landscapes, expressive characters, and creepy features when it comes to the more monstrous parts. (It seemed slightly darker in issue 5, and I'm not sure if it's on purpose or a matter of different inks, but I find it's quite fitting, reflecting the way the story is evolving (towards darker revelations and purposes).)

The first part follows Maika, a fierce young woman who looks but isn't human, as she's "bought" by a Cumaea nun and brought into their compound. Gifted with a strange power she cannot fully control, Maika is looking for answers, and isn't shy about dirtying her hands to get them. The reader is also introduced here to a few other characters, some who will likely appear in other issues, and others who probably won't... but I suspect their shadow won't vanish as easily, and we'll still hear about them.

In the second part, we get to discover the world outside, and not through a couple of flashbacks only. While Maika and the little kitsune manage to find a friendly woman to help them travel, the Cumaea's badass and ruthless leadership is unveiled some more... and the world itself is not the least ruthless of all, what's with the war still looming over its inhabitants. Not to mention the various uses of lilium.

Part 3 highlights the gruesome truths of the world (that "mountain" on the last two pages...), among which what's hiding within Maika. Literally, may I add. The monster is revealing itself, and it is scary. Yet at the same time, beauty remains in that world, too: in its landscapes, in the costumes (Maika in her simple dress tends to make one forget the Cumaea's clothes), in the wonders it may also contain. Kippa the cute fox-kid also plays more of a role, discarding an opportunity for running away to behave bravely instead. It may not seem much, but... but that kid is cute, and a little cuteness is not unwelcome in that world.

Part 4 and 5 also introduce more players, like the Warlord and the Queen, and the plot thickens (hints about what happened in Constantine). And in part 5 and 6, we get to see more of the mysterious Dusk Court, who have their own sources of information and their own plans for Maika, and even sent a bodyguard sent to escort her to their lands. Meanwhile, the Cumaea make their moves as well, and some of them are also in a long game, more than meet the eye for sure. Also, what is being done to these poor kids downstairs, and are the cats their guardians, or here to suppress their powers, or?...

As for part 6, this collection of first issues ends with a cliffhanger that doesn't bode so well for Maika. Cosmic irony much? I am sad that I won't get to find all the answers now, yet I'm also glad that the plot isn't too simplistic noro "drowned" in pretty panels.

Notes:

- I find it particularly interesting that most important characters are females (men are mostly seen in passing), but in a way that doesn't get pointed at: they aren't strong or important "in spite of" being female (the way you unfortunately see in too many works of fiction), they just ARE, which is great. And speaking of the Warlord... haven't we seen that face?

- I'm not sure if the "Awakening" volume also containes the "cat lessons" that were at the end of each individual issue. I found them interesting, and I didn't mind the infoo-dump since it wasn't imposed within the story itself, so all's good for me in that regard.

Conclusion: Definitely a graphic novel I want to keep reading, for its wonderful art (both soft and harsh, a little weird, creepy in places, and with beautiful landscapes and buildings) as well as for the direction the story seems to be taking: Maika's stay at the compound is only the beginning. So many questions, and hopefully many answers to come... in the next collection of issues.