Thursday 10 November 2022

CBR14 Book 40: "Monstress, vol 1: Awakening" by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Page count: 202 pages
Rating: 2 stars

CBR14 Bingo: Monster (there are several monsters in this story, both humanoid and not)

Official book description:
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.

So total honesty here. This was my local fantasy/sci-fi book club pick for March. Yup, nearly eight months ago. I read the first three issues, then got incredibly distracted by something or other, I don't even remember what anymore, and just left the trade paperback lying unattended until I finally got round to finishing the book in the middle of October, because it seemed like the easiest way to complete the "Monster" bingo square. Also, I was annoyed at myself for not finishing what is basically six issues of a comic book, something I can normally get through in about an hour. 

Splitting my reading of the story this way means that I barely have any memory of what happened in the earliest issues, and my comprehension of the later issues was somewhat hampered by me just spending some time re-reading. As the blurb says, the story is set in an alternate history, in turn of the 20th Century Asia, where instead of the majority of society being ruled and controlled by men, women are in power. So far, so cool. There's clearly been some sort of horrific war, and there are humans and talking cats and strange animal/people hybrids. There seems to be an organisation of powerful women who take the shall-we-say non-standard people captive and perform horrific experiments on them. Our heroine is a young woman called Maika Halfwolf, who is now an orphan and has suffered a bunch of trauma due to the wars. She only has one arm and is the Monstress of the title because some sort of scary life-sucking monster has taken up residence inside her, and they are now battling for control. 

For those with a weak constitution or sensitivity issues, there are probably a whole host of trigger warnings in this story. I recall there being horrific violence all over the place and generally a lot of unpleasantness, which is why I put the comic down in the first place. At the same time, this series has a lot of critical acclaim and has won a bunch of very prestigious awards over the years, so I should probably go back and give the book a new chance at a later date when I'm in a better headspace. The art by Sana Takeda is next-level and so beautiful that some of the unpleasantness just gets even more visceral. However, at this juncture, the book gets only 2 stars from me, because I pretty much finished the first volume out of stubbornness and remember very few details about the story at all. 

Judging a book by its cover: Sana Takeda's art really is breathtaking. While I probably should have given this book more dedicated attention, there is no denying that the art is amazing, and this cover image is very eye-catching. 

Crossposted on Cannonball Read

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