Friday, August 17, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #229: Monstress, Vol. 2 by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

The journey of a hero has to be difficult: the hero must go places no one else can, do things no one else dreams of. Monstress knows that, deep in its bones, and it has a great hero in Maika Halfwolf: spiky, conflicted, tormented, full of immense power that is not entirely hers, hard to like but vastly harder to ignore.

This second collection of Maika's journey, The Blood, ups the ante of all of the groundwork laid in the first book. Writer Marjorie Liu gives the story an ominous, mythic power, particularly through her use of semi-formal speech used as captions -- this is a dark, dangerous world, and she's thought through all of the details of it. And artist Sana Takeda makes that all real, in lush, detailed pages full of wonders and terrors.

The first book collected the first six issues of the series, and was mostly set-up: introducing Maika and her world (one big fantasy continent, not-quite-elves Arcanics on one side, divided into the traditional two courts and with some other supernatural allies, and a currently fanatical human society on the other side, devoted to killing all of those Arcanics at all costs).

This second book continues her journey: she's been introduced, and we know the things she must do (master or purge the ancient god within her, save either the Arcanics or the entire world, find the secrets her mother was chasing all her life). At this point in the hero's journey, she needs to go to the forbidden places, to find the things no one else can find and learn the things no one else can know, and to gather allies.

Maika is awfully spiky and bull-headed for allies -- and having an alien god within her that periodically emerges to demand bloody death to feed itself doesn't help, either -- so we mostly see her going to forbidden places to learn forbidden things in The Blood. She's in Thyria as this book opens, a port city in Arcanic territory, seeking passage to the Isle of Bones, which is just as dangerous and mysterious as it sounds.

The Isle is the corpse of a dead god -- the only god known to have died on this world. It's full of unquiet spirits, and even the very few people who manage to return from it -- like Maika's mother --are changed by it. But she needs to find the other pieces of the mask that can control the god within her, so she has to go there.

The fact that her god had a complex and half-forgotten relationship with the dead god is only the first complication. The inhabitants of the Isle are next, and the inevitable secrets and struggles for power. But perhaps worst is what happens when she finally gets off the island: the various forces circling her, ready to kill or capture or manipulate her for their own purposes, and what her actions there have triggered

The hero's journey is long: Maika still has a long way to go. She'll gain more allies, eventually, and probably lose more as well -- that's the way it has to be. Monstress is a strong epic fantasy story in comics form: Liu writes it well, and Takeda's art is as deep and true as your favorite cover artist, but with hundreds of pages of storytelling to boot.

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