Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.
I ended up quite liking this one. It recently won a HUGO award, so there’s that too.
The world building so subtly steals from ours (ancient egypt, Victorian, all of Asia) that it feels just familiar enough to be comfortable with. It is very dense and I found it hard to keep up with all the races and the names–at times I just went with the flow and didn’t attempt to care. It all makes sense in the end so my apathy paid off.
The end, however, feels a bit too rushed for the twist it gives. The artwork makes up for it. And so does the diversity of cast — majorly female. If I had to pitch this book I would call it a “An Asian Steampunk story where the gods are dead and haunt the world and there is a hybrid race of human-animals/monsters that are eaten (in parts or in whole) by the witches so that the witches can gain more magic.” Our main character is one of those hybrids, though she doesn’t look like it. She is missing an arm. I forget why. Either a witch ate it or she lost it during an explosion — the explosion which makes the witches think their opposing side has power enough to stop them, causing a standoff during the “cold war” going on. The hybrids and humans/witches are at war, as far as I could tell.
There is also a race of talking cats (some of which have multiple tails), which I found delightful. Some of the dynamics of the races don’t seem to be fleshed out well or thought out well, but there is potential to sharpen those storylines later. This world also has its own mythology–the gods are dead (maybe?) and their ghosts are roaming about and visible. But some don’t believe they are ghosts. To me, they seemed to be trapped in another plane. But then our main character is possessed by one of them (?) when she touches a mask (that only she can seem to touch). I don’t know. That is the part of the story that makes me sigh. This main character is just too much–represents too many side-stories. She loses an arm and conveniently get her nub possessed. She is a hybrid yet gets to look like a human. She has a complicated future with a mask yet it is also part of her past she’s trying to work out. She has a talking cat who she lets follow her around yet she is a wolf/canine. She can touch the mask when no one else can because she is…divine, maybe? She is an assassin that sneaks into enemy territory disguised as a slave. The monster inside her kills people and she has to tame it. She just has all these quirks that I found a bit too much like…
So, yeah. Reading this was a lot like watching Inuyasha at times (read: it feels like it’s just a plot device that’s not going to actually go anywhere). But the art had a Howl’s Moving Castle feel that made me weak in the knees.
Other goodreads reviews I agreed with:
One of the things that this book is praised for is how it throws you in without context or explanation, and honestly? I hated that. It’s not something I haven’t experienced before, but the way this book goes about telling its story, it’s almost full of itself in how little it tells you. It was frustrating, and that frustration made me uninterested in unravelling the story for myself. The plot seemed So Important, but really, I couldn’t muster a grain of interest in any of the characters’ well-beings.
First of all, let me say the art work won the graphic novel its two stars, the artwork was stunning and the characters of Kippa the fox/child and the two tailed cat are probably the only things i enjoyed. I felt the plot of this was just a mish mash of too many complicated ideas and not fully fleshed out and explained. Even though I’ve read this graphic novel i could tell you very little about the plot and the different factions and characters, all in all it was confusing and had a poor plot. I won’t be carrying on with this series.
I enjoyed reading this, and I think it’s one of those books that could be the set up for a really great series. However, as it is, I found it kind of meh. I didn’t find myself caring for the characters (except for Kippa, that was the only character I was even remotely attached to). I didn’t really care that much about the plot. For me, it didn’t feel like anything was at stake, probably because I didn’t really find myself caring about anyone. I’m one of those people who reads because I really like that characters. An intriguing world is great, but if I don’t care about the characters, I have a hard caring about the story.
I’ll likely read the second volume, because I think the series has potential. I just think this first volume was a setup and focused too much on worldbuilding.