I got an ARC of Monstress from Netgalley when the first volume, Awakening, came out, and I immediately sat down an read the first five issues straight through. It's rich, dense, lush, and challenging, with incredible worldbuilding, powerful characters, gorgeous artwork, and incredible adventures.
But the tension was so much that I got overstimulated and put it down. This happens to me a lot, especially with the best stuff--when I watch movies by myself and they get exciting, I almost always pause the video to get up and walk around. When I'm reading, I often switch from book to book when things get to exciting in the one I'm absorbed in. I hit my stimulation threshold--especially for the good stuff--really fast.
This was a stupid thing to do, though, because Monstress is amazing. The art is by Sana Takeda, and it is lush and rich and intricate. The story is by Marjorie Liu, and it's harsh and beautiful. I've read that the two do not share a language, and that their collaboration involves interpreters. I can't imagine what goes into producing even one issue of something so complex.
The worldbuilding is complicated enough that I was confused at times, but only in the way that you can just read past. It took a while to get the hang of who is on what side in the war, partly because there are species that look the same and partly because of the factions and betrayals going on. Basically, though, it's the humans vs. the part-animal Arcanics, and the Arcanics have been beaten, enslaved, and harvested for a magical substance that their bodies produce, in particular by a certain religious cult.
Maika, our main character, had been captive, but was living in freedom with her best friend, Tuya, before going back behind enemy lines for information that she couldn't get any other way. She wants to know the details of what happened to her mother, and she finds some answers, more questions--and an artifact, a mask that connects her to a horrifying creature. It fills her with power--and hunger. Her enemies are in danger, but so are her friends.
This book. I'm not the first one to tell you this book is incredible, but this book is incredible. Everyone is hungry for something--safety, power, memory--and everyone has their own agenda. It's so easy to get caught up in the more notable amazing things--the world is populated by women! the art is absolutely incredible! the monster, the terrifying monster!--that it's easy to overlook the subtle wonderfulness of the storytelling--Maika's confusion about the right path; the unwavering goodness of Kippa the fox girl; all the people facing complicated moral choices and making the ones you might not have expected.
Best comic I've read in a year, I think--and it's been a pretty good year.