Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood has all the elements that made the first volume in this series so bloody captivating.
There’s the same high fantasy exploration of gender, race and violence from writer Marjorie Liu. There’s the same incredibly detailed and evocative art from Sana Takeda, which I’ve previously called art deco, but now am tempted to define as being baroque.
And there’s still a faction of many-tailed, magical, talking cats who are one of the many groups interested in hunting down our heroine: Maika Halfwolf.
Set in a matriarchal, alternate Asia, the protagonist of Monstress is a 17-year old Arcanic. Half-human, half-Ancient – the Ancients being a faction of anthropomorphised animal gods – Maika Halfwolf is considered magical even by Arcanic standards. That’s because she has a demon living inside her. An ancient monstrum that is powerful enough to end worlds.
The second volume of series starts with Maika being down one arm, having sacrificed her flesh in an effort to command the monster within. Realising that she can’t afford to control the monster for long (how much of her would be left if she tried?), Maika decides to follow in her dead mother’s footsteps. She’s hoping to discover what her mother knew about the monstrum, and find out if there is a cure.
Maika sets sail for the Isle of Bone, which means the action in this volume takes place on the seas, in grand ships, and on isolated islands, allowing Sana Takeda to illustrate all new, immersive landscapes. The new setting also introduces the reader to a raft of new Arcanic characters; lions, tigers, foxes and sharks that Takeda brings to life in absorbing detail. And you’re definitely going to dig these new personalities, because they’re pirates.
Maika’s goddessfather (got to love that matriarchal society), Seizi, is an Arcanic tiger who captains a fleet of pirate ships. He’s done terrible things in his chosen profession, but he truly loves Maika. Their conversation about trust and redemption gives the reader hope that Maika might be able to overcome the horrors of her past. “Everything I have came from years of ruthless murder,” Seizi says. “Am I safe? No. But I love. I am loyal. And that is my redemption.”
If that logic doesn’t hold up with you, dear reader, don’t worry, it doesn’t have to. None of the characters in Monstress are supposed to be wholly good, or moral, or even likeable. In fact, they are the most part deeply flawed. But that’s one of the reasons this series is such a compelling read. What we learn in this volume about Moriko, Maika’s mother, shows their relationship to be intensely troubling – but this is something the comic is set up to deal with sensitively in future issues.
You will either find this next observation satisfying or incredibly frustrating: answers come slowly in Monstress. The world building is rich and complex, but by the end of the first volume we were only just scratching the surface of the power structures and various political groups of the society. Similarly, while the reader knew that there were mysteries to uncover from Maika’s own life, it was hard to figure out what questions were being raised about her past, let alone the answers.
Volume 2 reveals its hand slowly, but when it does it’s worth the wait. This volume shows the reader more about the Shaman Empress – an ancient Arcanic woman, who wielded a dangerous power that humans, witches and Arcanics alike are still seeking – as well as the monstrum inside of Maika. For the first time, we are also asked to consider who Maika’s father might be, and what role he might have played in the recent history of this world...
A question that will not doubt be answered in Volume 3. Let’s turn the gold-gilded, baroque hourglass. Begin the countdown.
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