Monstress Volume 2 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Where Monstress Volume 1 felt more of a cypher than a full tale, Volume 2 solidifies the story while never giving away too much of the lore. The art work, as always, is breathtaking; more than a pretty face, the illustrations beautifully enhance the story, adding even further nuance and character to an already rich world. I wasn’t completely sure if I should keep reading after the first book – worried it would continue to be inscrutable. However, I am very glad I continued with Monstress Volume 2.

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Story: Maiko learns she must travel to the Island of Bones, just as she knows Ren the cat and young half fox Kippa will follow her, each for reasons unknown. But the journey is perilous, the island a toxic morass from the death of a god there, and Maiko will soon discover that in finding out more about her mother, she will have to face some hard truths about her own existence.

The personalities here are so fully formed, each distinct and unique. And they work perfectly together to tell the story. From contentious Ren to innocent Kippa, avuncular Seizi, and the various side characters, each is a treat. Not just for the beautiful artwork – this is a fascinating and layered story in and of itself. There are moments I laugh (Ren!) and moments I recoil, and they are all masterfully told. This is horror, fantasy, and fairy tale combined.

Much has been said about the beauty of the artwork and the subtle watercoloring. But really, a closer examination reveals a mastery in the graphic form – from panel layouts, perspective, to the subtle but important positioning of the dialogue boxes. The story flows seamlessly from word to art to word in a way that is so rare these days in the graphic novel format.

Japanese culture is definitely an influence here – and I am reminded of the wit and mastery that went into Avatar: The Last Airbender. Subtle winks and nods to the lore – from a dead-raising feline character called a ‘nekomancer’ (‘neko’ is Japanese for cat) to the Hokusai waves seamlessly layered throughout the sea-faring chapters.

In all, this is why we read graphic novels. The story would be interesting on its own and the artwork lovely to admire. But when they work together, they create a synergy that makes for an extremely rewarding read. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.

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