Friday, August 25, 2017

Monstress Vol II The Blood Written by Marjorie Liu Art by Sana Takeda

Monstress Vol II The Blood
Written by Marjorie Liu
Art by Sana Takeda

So in March of this year I reviewed a fantasy graphic novel named Monstress (you can see the link at the bottom of this review), that was originally published in 2016. I enjoyed it. This year with the release of the 2nd volume, the series returns to this review series. Before I look at this volume specifically, let me explain a bit about the world itself for new reads.

This is a techno-magic steampunk world where several different societies used to exist in balance with each other until a generation ago. The humans, united into a single Federation (called the Federation of Man) has come under the domination of a single religious order: the Cumaea. The Cumaea is a woman-only organization of magic users united in the worship of their founder; over time they have become a pack of fascists seeking to enslave or wipe out the other two societies. The other large society is that of the Arcanics, the Arcanics are the products of crossbreeding between humans and immortal humanoids with animal features called Ancients. Some Arcanics are incredibly inhuman, ranging from those who look like humanoid sharks or tigers to those who don't really have any human traits. Other Arcancis display traits that are a mix of human and animal, being humans with fox ears and tails for example. Lastly there are Arcanics who look entirely human with their inherited traits not being present to the naked eye. If I can be excused from showing off my education, Arcanics are ridiculously phenotypically diverse while remaining genetically related and have retained an ability to interbreed with humans (Note from the biologist editor: HOW!? *editor has a seizure*{If I had to guess, the secret would lie in the fact that their origins are as crossbreeds between humans and magical beings, so they would have a shared genetic link in their human ancestors and… magic}). The Arcancis are divided into a number of societies with two being dominant: the court of the Dawn and the court of the Dusk. Both Dawn and Dusk were locked in competition with each other until the Cumaea rudely interrupted by leading the Federation of Man in a genocidal war against all Arcanics. The last major group are the cats, who exist mainly in Arcanic society as far as I can tell but do have their own homeland. They seem mostly divided into two groups, the poets and the... Nekomancers, who are really just necromancers in that they have the power to call forth the dead and get knowledge and information from said ghosts.

The series focuses on Maika Halfwolf, a young woman with a dangerous entity, that may or may not be some type of elder god, sleeping inside of her. She is searching for answers: what is this thing inside of her; where did it come from; what does her mother have to do with all of this; why on earth would anyone think that grabbing a being older than the world that feeds on life itself and sticking it inside of a small girl was remotely close to a good idea!?! Seriously, I am at loss to figure out just what combination of narcotics, booze, and suicidal mania was needed for anyone to think this was good idea! Maika, having to deal with this thing up close and personal, shares some of my confusion and is left wondering if her mother saw her as a child or a weapon. So on top of her questions, she also has to answer a question I really wish no child would ever have to ask: did her Mother actually love or even care about her at all? Digging through her death and the people around at the time hasn't really yielded any workable answers. She knows how this all ended, but she has no idea what led her Mother to do what she did or why. So Maika decides what she needs to do is work backwards. Maika Halfwolf whether she likes it or not is going to have follow her Mother's footsteps which means that our heroine is going to go forth to the sea.

The city of Thyria called the Mistress of the Abyssal Sea, an Arcanic city that was brutally invaded by the Cumaea and almost fell in 6 days of savage house to house combat. It was only saved by the rage of the goddess of the sea, worshiped as the Wave Empress, who sent a typhoon of divine proportions that wiped the invaders away. It's there that Maika's godfather Seizi Imura, a powerful tiger clan businessman, explorer, and former pirate lives and can give her a ship to take her to the one place he doesn't want to go-- the Isle of Bones. Seizi isn't in the story for long but his impact is an interesting one. Maika is understandably a very guarded person and in most of her relationships in this story is either the more powerful party (I'll come back to this folks) or antagonistic and untrusting with very good reason. With Seizi we see her, briefly, with someone she isn't in power over or hostile towards. I can't say that Maika trusts Seizi deeply but she clearly has more faith in him than most, being willing to turn to him for help even if she doesn't tell him everything. What Maika shows us is a very tired young woman who however determined to know the truth and get to the bottom of this mystery. More space is given to the relationship between Kappa, a young fox blood Arcanic, and Maika. Maika, as we see through flashbacks is clearly patterning her behavior towards Kappa after her Mother but trying as much as she can to soften it. Meanwhile Kappa is attempting to set himself as Maika's moral compass often trying to steer her to more humane course of action. So the relationship becomes one of a stern, distant, but not unloving mother figure and a student who knows their teacher is suffering under a dangerous flaw and is trying to pull them away from that. It's a complex dynamic that clearly has Maika in the driver's seat but isn't all one way. Maika wants to keep Kappa safe and seems to want to live up to at least some of his expectations. At the same time she pushes him to be more capable, decisive and ruthless. I'm not sure where this relationship is going to end up and that honestly interests me almost as much as the world itself.

Speaking of the world itself we see more of it and learn more of it's history and well... It's a shame (in a good way). The ancients have sins in their past that they would also like to forget (this frankly adds to the realism and depth of the world. These sins might be coming back to bite Maika in a metaphorical and perhaps literal sense on the Isle of Bone. As a number of secrets of the far past of her world are peeled back, a good number of them having to deal directly with not just her but her and the elder god's connection to the Shamen-Empress, the near mythical figure who united the world under one rule using magical abilities and technology lost upon her death. I will say this, the connection means that for me at least the title of Shamen-Empress makes much more sense. There are answers waiting for Maika on that island if she can get there, but there's also great and terrible danger. There's also no promise that the answers she seeks will be of any help to her.

The art remains amazing, lushly detailed but avoiding being so busy as to overwhelm the eye. Character design is creative and fun to look at and the color choices are great. You could buy the book just for the art I promise you that. Combine this with some interesting flawed and complex characters, a great plot riddled with mystery and secrets and an engaging fantasy world that at this point looks like it could stand shoulder to shoulder to any of the greats in fantasy and you have a graphic novel series that is a fantastic read. One note, I wouldn't recommend this for anyone under the age of 14-15 thereabouts, this is very much an adult book with a good amount of blood and some disturbing imagery and topics. Genocide, slaver,y and many other dark topics are things you should expect to run into here and Ms. Liu steadfastly refuses to pull her punches. Which all things considered may be for the best. Monstress II, The Blood by Marjorie Liu gets an A.

Next week, we turn back to written novels with Grace of Kings by Ken Liu. Keep reading.

This review Edited by Dr. Ben Allen.

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