Set in an alternate world of art deco beauty and steampunk horror, Monstress tells the epic story of Maika Halfwolf, a teenage survivor of a cataclysmic war between humans and their hated enemies, the Arcanics. In the face of oppression and terrible danger, Maika is bother hunter and hunted, searching for answers about her mysterious past as those who seek to use her remain just one step behind… and all the while, the monster within begins to awaken…
My first impression of Monstress was one of violence. The beginning doesn't pull any punches and was very dark and violent with torture and death up front. I found it a bit off-putting, since I wasn't prepared for it. But the further I read, the more I enjoyed it. A large part of that, I think, is the world building which was revealed gradually throughout the volume — partly told through the medium of a cat professor — and my growing interest in the mystery of Maika's past.
As we learn more of the story world, we learn that there are different races (exactly what makes some of them different confused me at first, as did the names of races versus groups within them), including a race of cats and of immortals. (And who doesn't like cats, right?) The main character is on a mission that we don't know all the details of, she picks up a stray fox-girl and meets up with a cat. And also something monstrous lives inside her. Hence the title.
I think if I had only read one issue of Monstress I might not have kept going. I mainly did because I had the ARC and I wanted to get through it for Hugo-voting purposes. I'm glad I did because after a reluctant first half, I got into it. It reminded me a little bit of Saga, but more fantasy and less SF, and more violence and fewer penises. And fewer men. In fact, most of the cast is female, the evil, the innocent and the deeply morally questionable. There are only a few men and they're not very important. Even random guards — many of whom die — are mostly female, which is great to see.
I would recommend this volume to fans of dark fantasy and steampunk who don't mind reading about a lot of violence and (supernatural) death. It's a bit heavy and not for everyone but I'm glad I finished the volume. I wasn't sure while I was reading whether I'd be picking up the next volume, but I am interested in seeing what happens next.
4 / 5 stars
First published: 2016, Image Comics
Series: Volume 1 of ongoing series, containing issues #1–6
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via Edelweiss (although it was also in the Hugo packet)