Review of Monstress, Volume Two
Determined to discover more about her mother, herself, and the monstrous entity sharing her body, Maika Halfwolf enlists help in order to sail to the Isle of Bones. Apparently, her mother gained knowledge and had a transformative encounter there, and Mariko intends to see for herself what waits on the cursed island.
With luck, she’ll discover the importance of the relic from the Shaman-Empress in her possession and why everyone from the Inquisitor Witches to the immortal Acanics and the Blood Queen all want to find her. Meanwhile, the Dawn and Dusk Courts and the Federation all position themselves to take advantage of the chaos brought about by Maika’s search and the horrific carnage the monster can cause. The deeper into her search she progresses, the more Maika questions not only the motivations of her mother but also what it is she really hopes to find from her endeavor.
This volume does a fine job of continuing with the story and character motivations from the first volume. The witch-nuns are absent, and for a significant portion of the story, there isn’t a strong antagonist to help shape the plot. Maika’s aggression and frequent lack of tact do, however, help set up Ren and Kippa as her foils and sidekicks.
The dynamic between them is interesting because they are often uneasy allies and at some level all using one another. A lot of the side-characters are interesting but lack the dynamic energy Maika brings to her storyline. The inclusion of Rohar the Blood Fox helps the later issues because he and Maika both despise each other, but each has something the other desires. It is a standard narrative development, but it works wonders for generating antagonism and tension in the latter parts of the volume.
What makes Maika compelling is how frequently she is her own obstacle. She knows she needs help to learn about her mother and reach the Isle of Bones, but she alienates nearly everyone she comes across. Her deepest desire is to know her mother and gain the woman’s approval or some measure of validation, but since Moriko is long dead, that desire can never be fulfilled, meaning Maika dooms herself to disappointment and only works to estrange and embitter herself in a quest that cannot fulfill her.
Additionally, there is the monster that lives inside her, compelling her to feed on other creatures, and if Maika cannot discover the secrets of the Shaman-Empress and her mask, the monster will consume her as well. This theme of predation and feeding continues from what was established in the prior volume, Awakening.
Readers learn more about the world and see some the scheming of others, though it’s hard to feel much for these asides because they lack the urgency and personal connection found in Maika’s arc. There are some interesting revelations regarding Dusk and Dawn Courts, but the effects will have to be realized later once Maika reenters their spheres of influence. Also, one would think these various authorities would stop sending minions to try to detain or command Maika because it always ends horrifically.
While learning more about the world, readers also learn more about the monstrous creatures that once threatened it, specifically the one inside Maika. For those who prefer their devouring cosmic horrors unknowable, this development will come as a disappointment.
There is plenty to be gained by learning about the monster, as it is both vicious and intriguing, but there is a great risk in showing too much. As with any worthwhile monster, much of its power is in what is hidden. Developing it in a particular way can grant a new angle to the story and reveal new facets of the other plot points, but there remains the potential to ruin the monster’s mystery and turn it into something mundane.
It's in the Blood
Takeda’s art remains stellar, giving richness to the story through the details of the characters and environment. Arcanics, monsters, ghosts, Rift Hounds, and the Ferryman are all fully and often horrifyingly realized, which makes them easier to believe in as characters living in the world. Thyria and the Isle of Bones are rendered as both real and fantastical.
Monstress continues to be an amazing series that establishes an evocative and unique world with a grim tone. Start with the first volume, but Monstress is not to be missed.
Liu, Majorie; Takeda, Sana. Monstress, Vol. 2: The Blood. Image, 2017.
© 2018 Seth Tomko