I came across the Monstress series when I was compiling my list of 2019 literary award winners. The third volume of the series won the 2019 Hugo and Nebula award for Best Graphic Novel. Having not read the first two volumes, I started from the beginning with volume 1.
This is one of those fantasy graphic novels that you might find yourself asking yourself a lot of questions about the world in which the story is set, who all of the people groups are, and a little confused about the back history. The conflict and the characters are so well written, however, that it keeps you reading and looking for context clues on the way.
The world in which Monstress is set is made up of several people groups: Humans, the Witch nuns (I’m pretty sure they’re vampires, but I’m still not sure), Cats, Ancient Ones (animals), and Arcanics (human/ancient one hybirds). There’s a war between the Humans and the Ancient Ones. The Nuns are allied with the humans (and thanks to their supernatural power, they are really the power behind the human force). The Ancient Ones and Arcanics fight together, and the Cats end up being collateral damage on all sides. We start the story with a young woman, Maika, being captured by the Nuns. In the events that follow we learn that Maika has special abilities. Thanks to an ancient Cthulhu-like god who shares Maika’s body. From time to time this deity helps Maika achieve her goals while also trying to accomplish his own.
Maika is trying to get back to the land of the Arcanics, while avoiding the Nuns and the Humans. It’s not an easy task. And even once she does reach the realm of the Arcanics and Ancient ones, she learns that she’s still not safe. There’s a mystery surrounding her that neither she nor the reader really knows about. This makes it a fun read because it feels like we know as much of what is going on as Maika does.
There’s a brilliant blending of manga and steam-punk in this (this is where the Cthulhu stuff comes in) that creates new imagery and makes for an intriguing read. The illustrations were just as fascinating as the writing.