MONSTRESS 5: Warchild: It never flinches

Monstress: Volume 5 by Marjorie Liu and Sana TakedaMONSTRESS 5: Warchild by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

Monstress: Volume 5 by Marjorie Liu and Sana TakedaThis is my fifth review for what is the fifth volume in Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s collaborative MONSTRESS project, and it’s getting difficult not to repeat myself. Here are the basics: it takes place in a matriarchal society that’s embroiled in a devastating war between those that wield magic and those that rely on technological advancements.

The main character is Maika Halfwolf, a girl with one arm and a Lovecraftian monster living inside her, desperately trying to keep her head above the morass of political intrigue and violence that surrounds her. And the artwork in this series is exceptionally beautiful, combining Asian and Egyptian influences with an Art Nouveau style that I’ve certainly never seen anywhere outside of these books.

Volume 5: Warchild (comprised of issues 25 to 30) sees Maika throwing in her lot with the walled City of Ravenna, which is about to be besieged by the Federation of Men. The book in its entirety covers the build-up, duration and aftermath of the battle in all its blood and guts, never flinching from the horror of violence and war. Seriously, it can get pretty graphic.

We’re also treated to a few glimpses of Maika’s childhood as a scavenger, along with her friend Tula (who also features in this volume as an adult, with a mysterious agenda all her own). Little Kippa has a really bad day as she tries to summon her bravery in the face of war, and Zim – the monster within Maika – has some fascinating insights to share.Monstress by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

I have to admit that on some level the storyline is practically impossible to discern. Even five volumes in I have to check and double-check exactly what the Arcanics are, who the shaman-empress was, or why there’s even a war in the first place. In any other story, this lack of clarity would infuriate me, and yet something about MONSTRESS is compelling enough to keep me returning with each publication.

Most of this has to do with Sana Takeda’s incredible artwork – intricate as it is epic in scope – but I also enjoy reading about women who are unapologetically complex. Because most of the characters are female, they encompass the whole spectrum of morality, from the innocence of Kippa to the cruel depravity of Colonel Anuwat. Even Maika herself is forced to make difficult decisions throughout this volume, sacrificing a few to save the many.

I am curious though, as to how much longer this series intends to run. We’re thirty issues in now, and there’s no sign of things wrapping up, even though Maika is becoming more assured regarding her own identity and abilities. Perhaps there’s still a long journey ahead of us, but I’m ready for things to start edging toward a conclusion.

Published in 2020. The next volume in the best-selling Eisner, Hugo, Harvey & British Fantasy Award winning series by MARJORIE LIU and SANA TAKEDA! The long-dreaded war between the Federation and Arcanics is about to explode. Maika must choose her next steps: will she help her friends, or strike out on her own? Collects MONSTRESS issues #25-30

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REBECCA FISHER, with us since January 2008, earned a Masters degree in literature at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Her thesis included a comparison of how C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman each use the idea of mankind’s Fall from Grace to structure the worldviews presented in their fantasy series. Rebecca is a firm believer that fantasy books written for children can be just as meaningful, well-written and enjoyable as those for adults, and in some cases, even more so. Rebecca lives in New Zealand. She is the winner of the 2015 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best SFF Fan Writer.

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2 comments

  1. Paul Connelly /

    I felt like this was the first collection that didn’t try to introduce any *new* complications, so that’s hopefully a sign that the plot will get more understandable. Many of the Cumaeans are possessed by what appear to be demons similar to Zinn, although maybe less powerful, and Maika is trying to open a back channel to the Federation’s nominal leaders to let them know that. Whether this will succeed in stopping the war remains to be seen.

    • Bryan Wigmore /

      It’s also the first volume that didn’t, to me, feel like it moved far at all in terms of plot. Nor does Volume 6. It’s feeling less and less like the series is heading towards any kind of definite conclusion.

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