Monstress Volume 1: Awakening 
Marjorie M. Liu , writer; Sana Takeda, artist

Image Comics, 2016

Monstress is a remarkable series. Takeda paints the art, giving the story a rich visual setting. Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900s Asia, the designs combine Art Deco with steampunk--an imaginative, ornate style. Liu has created a truly unusual fantasy world. It's a place with multiple species, including talking cats; magic, and monsters lurking in the background.

Teenage protagonist Maika is struggling to overcome the trauma of war, and on a mission to find her lost family. She has unique powers, which increasingly manifest themselves in the course of this first arc. Initially this includes an undependable ability to open locks with her mind. But it soon becomes clear that she is also unusually strong, and has some kind of link with a tremendously powerful monster that may have world-changing implications.

In many ways this is a traditional high fantasy adventure story, but there are more than enough unique elements to take it out of the ordinary. While it is visually beautiful, it's also quite violent: severed limbs and beheading are both frequent occurrences. There's a map of the "known world" in the back of the collection, but I would have appreciated a character guide. After awhile I had trouble keeping track of both the characters and their political affiliations. 

It's a fascinating new world being created here, and I look forward to seeing more of it.

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Another thing about the art: it's an interesting fusion of Western fantasy art and manga. There are small animal-like characters that especially have a manga look, big eyes and all. It also gives another layer of cuteness to contrast with the often bleak action.

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