What do you get when you combine GAME OF THRONES with PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN? Probably something tone deaf and incredibly unfocused. Or you might get something along the lines of MONSTRESS VOL. 2. The story, brought to readers from the minds of Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda, continues where the previous volume left off. It expands this unique fantasy realm while including themes of past anxiety and trauma as it explores this rich, lore-filled realm.

MONSTRESS VOL. 2 Creates a Whole New World

MONSTRESS VOL. 2 continues Maika Halfwolf’s story in discovering her family’s history and the power that lies within her. To complete this mission, Maika must travel across the harrowing sea to the Isle of Bone. Years ago, her mother completed this very same journey. Thus, she hopes to discover why an ancient monstrum dwells within her, and her mother’s secrets.

The monstrum, of course, is this ancient, other-worldly force that practically acts as a god of the realm. The monstrum and the Shaman Empress, an ancient arcanic female who wielded immense power that both humans and arcanics covet, appear as key elements in Maika’s quest in discovering more about her mother. The authors unveil bits of the deeper narrative, as the relationship of this monstrum and the elusive Shaman Empress starts revealing itself. It appears nothing is quite as simple as it first seemed, and Maika and her companions still have much to learn about the world they inhabit.

MONSTRESS VOL. 2
Courtesy of Image Comics

The most striking feature of this graphic novel pertains to the lore. These authors managed to create a dense, immersive world. It doesn’t even really resemble anything else in existence. At times, this appears as a disadvantage for the creators. Races and habits of the world are frequently introduced, making it difficult to keep track of the various nuances of the realm. It gets to the point where the authors explain aspects of the world’s history through a one-page exposition dump. These sudden piles of exposition appear in the form of an older cat teaching a bunch of kittens the history of their world. While the page appears visually charming, the sheer amount of text quickly becomes overwhelming.

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Manga Art in a Western Fantasy

The art is simply breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve ever realized how much an artist can affect your reading experience until flipping through the pages of this volume. Sana Takeda makes each panel feel like a carefully crafted masterpiece. It all fits together in such a nice package that it’s really hard to find flaws with the comic. I like how it resembles Japanese manga in terms of character design, yet feels very much like its own thing. The details of the armor, scenery, and even stuff like the trees are just breathtaking. At times, it’s almost a shame when you see text blurbs blocking the view of the scene.

No Mary-Sues, All Characters Have Flaws

The depth of the main cast, particularly Maika and the monstrum, remains exquisite. These are deeply flawed individuals, no question about it. Maika fluctuates for me from being too unlikable to extraordinarily sympathetic. Meanwhile, the monstrum’s revealed history with the Shaman Empress creates an interesting dynamic for why he resides within Maika.

MONSTRESS VOL. 2
Courtesy of Image Comics

It’s also nice to see more of Maika’s backstory. As it’s later revealed, her relationship with her mother wasn’t exactly pleasant. Her mother treated her more like a soldier, someone who needed training, as opposed to a child. It’s clear that she never received true love or compassion from her mother, and thus it makes sense why Maika has trouble identifying when those around her care for her. She knows she’s different and is fearful for that. She relies too heavily on her own skill instead of accepting the help from her fellow travelers.

READ: Craving the symbolic significance of MONSTRESS? Check out A MONSTRESS PERSPECTIVE!

For these reasons, I grew to love her. I feel like a big part of Maika’s character development will come from her not necessarily changing, but understanding she has friends and allies. She’s strong, that’s undeniable, but she doesn’t always need to be the strongest. It’s okay to rely on others, though given how much she’s hunted, it’s understandable why she doesn’t.

World-Building and Narrative Pay-Off

While the authors have told the readers a bit more about this mysterious realm, they still keep most of it under lock and key. We know very little about Maika’s mother, and what exactly the Shaman Empress did, yet at the same time finding out little by little makes each volume feel worthwhile. The entire narrative feels like it’s building to something grand, something as epic as LORD OF THE RINGS. Relatable characters in such a lore-heavy tale elevate MONSTRESS VOL. 2 to the stuff of legends.

MONSTRESS VOL . 2 BY MARJORIE LIU AND SANA TAKEDA
Art
Plot
Characterization
Summary
Exquisite art and characters in a whole new world. Continues to deepen the already intricate story.
86 %
Earth-shattering in every way

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