Sunday, April 2, 2017

REVIEW: MONSTRESS VOLUME 1: AWAKENING

A hunger born of darkness...


INTRODUCTION 
I'd seen and heard a little about MONSTRESS, but it wasn't until this graphic novel made the shortlist for the Booktube SFF Awards (an annual reading group on Goodreads). I knew this one would be a little bit out there and that's partly why I'd never bothered to look into it too much, but based off of all the high praise that this comic was getting in the group, I felt compelled to buy it on Comixology and see if I would like it as much as others do.   

HOW I RATED IT 
4/5 While this definitely ventures a little outside of my comfort zone in terms of anime-ish weirdness and over-the-top gore, I did actually like this painstakingly detailed and intriguingly dark piece of graphic fiction. 

CHARACTERS
This is the one area in my opinion that I think the story actually falls a little bit flat. Don't get me wrong, I found all of the heroes and villains to be pretty interesting. The issue I have simply stems from the fact that I didn't feel particularly invested in any of them. I did find their goals and motivations to be compelling and there are a lot of bad-asses running around which is always fun, I just needed that little extra bit of humanity that wasn't there to really connect with them. Even Maika, who's the principal heroine of the story just felt a little cold and hard to relate to at times. This is definitely one of those harsh fantasy worlds where the people living in it have become rather callous. This made sense to me given the circumstances, but I'm the type of reader that needs at least one character to cling to, so there was something missing here for me. I did love how stylish everyone is from the pseudo-religious order of sexy witches to the grand army of the Dusk Court. All of them look wonderfully unique and I felt like their visuals added to their personalities in a significant way. I'll also say that I actually kind of liked some of the cutsier characters. Normally, I would find these characters to be impossibly irritating, but I think in this case they were actually the ones I liked the most.

WORLD/SETTING 
The dystopian semi-steampunk high fantasy world of MONSTRESS is by far one of the best things that the series has going for it. Humans and non-humans have a sort of cold war going on after the fallout of a battle at a place called Constantine. The various non-humans are viewed as monsters and the order of witches that serve as the primary antagonists of the story have no qualms about committing horrible acts of cruelty upon even the most benign of them. I was a little confused by some of the origins of how these non-humans came to be. There are references to having "ancient" blood but it's a little unclear to me as to exactly what that means and whether all of the different creatures descend from the same god-like beings that seemingly no longer wander the world. There's also some confusion around what exactly the towering phantoms are and what kind of creature inhabits Maika's body. All of this weird mysticism and interracial conflict is complimented nicely by a sprawling world that is breathtakingly rendered by some stunning artwork. Towering cities, creepy laboratories, dark forests, and soulscapes are just a  few of the exotic locations this story visits and all of them felt equally interesting which is quite an achievement for any work of epic fantasy. 

PLOT/TONE 
One thing to know about this graphic novel is that it is incredibly dark and morbidly violent. People are beaten, maimed, murdered, and sometimes resurrected in horrific ways that are sure to disturb more than a few people. A lot of it probably isn't totally out of the realm of what an avid anime fan is used to, but for those like me who really aren't all that much into anime at all, some of the imagery will probably rub you the wrong way. I found the story and characters compelling enough where this never deterred me from wanting to continue, but I also could have gone without some of the more detailed depictions of graphic violence. There's also a pretty deep psychological brand of horror that the story explores. They don't call this series "Monstress" for nothing. It turns out that Maika suffers from a deep and disturbing hunger that she can't control, the likes of which threaten to drag her down into the darkness. I found her symbiotic relationship with the monster living within her to be pretty tense at times. It's pulled off in an interesting way and by the end of the volume I found myself very curious as to where this theme will go. 

ARTWORK 
There's not much to say about this aspect of the volume other than that it is some of the best and most consistent comic artwork that I've ever seen. Everything, the characters, the backdrops, the landscapes, and the props, are all intricate and vibrantly colored. The style is definitely at least a little reminiscent of anime-type art, but it's also very detailed and the lighting is very well done. 

CONCLUSION 
If you can stomach the more gruesome bits and tolerate some of the inherent strangeness, then this graphic novel can be a pretty enjoyable and wild ride. The art in and of itself make giving this a read more than worth it, but I think the story is pretty worthwhile as well. There's just a lot that this series has going for it and it would be a shame for anyone not to give it a good look.

If you want more info and/or reviews on MONSTRESS VOLUME 1: AWAKENING, then be sure to check it out on Goodreads.

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