Monstress, Volumes 1-3 by Marjorie M. Liu
Art by Sana Takeda
Fantasy | Science Fiction | Comic Book
Published by Image Comics
Goodreads | Amazon
I have no idea where I first heard of Marjorie Liu’s Monstress series, but it’s one that I’ve had on my mind for a few years. While I usually stick to Marvel or Star Trek comics (big surprise, right?), occasionally something from Image (which is a publisher that has some truly stunning titles) will catch my eye.
I was in the mood to re-read volume one and catch up the rest, so I picked up volumes 1-3 from my local library. I ended up only reading the first two, and this review will be discussing both.
To start, let’s talk about the story. There’s no way I can put it better than the official synopses:
Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steampunk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.
How perfect is that? This is exactly the kind of comic book series that I need in my life.
The art in the series, done by Sana Takeda, is gorgeous. I love the art deco vibes, and the dark color scheme fits it really well. The look and style of the characters, especially the arcanic characters, are stunning.
Now, let’s talk about the story itself and the writing.
I read a lot of high fantasy and science fiction, most of which contain a lot of new world-building. In fact, great world-building is one of the things I look for in fiction. It’s why authors like Brandon Sanderson and Leigh Bardugo are some of my favorites. The world-building in Monstress, however, was jumbled and very often confusing. There are also places where there’s quite a bit of info-dumping, which I feel shouldn’t be necessary for a comic book series.
Writing stories for comic books isn’t easy. The majority of issues are around 22-25 pages and mostly images, which means that the writer needs to be able to craft a compelling narrative that readers can grasp easily and quickly. This doesn’t mean that the story needs to be simple; in fact, many comic books today, even from established publishers like Marvel and DC Comics, are releasing stories that have a lot of depth to them. When I read Monstress, though, I found myself having to flip back and forth multiple times in order to figure out what was going on and to make sense of this new, very complicated world.
The story that Liu has created is absolutely entrancing, and I would love to read more of it. I just don’t feel that a comic book series was necessarily the right way to tell this story. There’s almost too much world-building and lore, especially for a medium where there’s not a lot of room to explore it.
Despite the stunning art, the story was too hard to follow and I found myself no longer enjoying it. I hate that I’m saying this because I really wanted to like this series. It should be one of my favorites, just based on the idea behind it. The execution, though, and the fact that it’s a comic book rather than a novel (which I think would have worked so much better for a story as complicated as this one) made me realize that it really isn’t the series for me.