To be perfectly honest, when I saw this series was nominated for the Best Graphic Story Hugo again, I sighed, girded my loins and decided to plunge in so as to get this over with quickly. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the things I disliked about the first four volumes were present in much less egregious forms here, while the things I did like were much stronger and easier to enjoy.
And maybe my aversion was a result of me bingeing the first four books all at once: readers, the grimdark of this series is A LOT. Perhaps each book is more manageable when removed from the rest. I did have to take a quick refresher course from my previous reviews to remind me of who and what was going on, and while I’m still not 100% sure who everyone is and why they were doing what they did, I don’t feel like I missed too much, or at least not too much more than I had while reading the preceding books.
So in this volume, the Federation of Man is finally launching its attack on the Arcanics, bearing down on the city of Ravenna. As Lord Corvid’s sister lives there and refuses to be evacuated, he (characteristically) decides he’s going to head over and force her to leave. Maika, our heroine, is still searching for pieces of the mask, so decides to tag along since it’s on her way. Kippa, having heard news of fox survivors in the area, wants to go as well in order to fulfill her vow, much to Maika’s dismay.
Our trio arrives to find a city in chaos, and Maika soon decides, after watching the shambles of the defense coordination, to take charge. But war is an awful, ruinous thing, and Maika will have to be even worse than that if she wants to give Ravenna a fighting chance at survival.
Interspersed with the present-day story are flashbacks to Maika’s time as a slave under the command of the Cumaean witches, who forced her and her fellow children to scavenge useful items from the battlefield even as bullets whizzed overhead. We also find out a little bit more about Zinn’s background and motivations, and how long Tuya has actually been hiding the truth from Maika. There is, if I may reiterate, A LOT going on in this book, but even someone as generally disinterested as I am in keeping track of the minutiae of multiple political factions will find the sheer excitement of the story quite absorbing. War stories are hard to make dull, after all. It helps that a lot of these characters are archetypes so you don’t HAVE to think too hard about who’s doing what and why. It makes for an overall interesting and mostly pleasant reading experience — insofar as one can say that about a Lovecraftian war story — especially when interspersed with the cuteness of the children and the cats.
Sana Takeda’s art, ofc, is responsible for a lot of the cuteness, which helps leaven the grimness of the rest of the book. Her colors are truly spectacular in this installment, and the details of her covers are outstanding. The one page with Maika’s face aging from her childhood flashback to the present day was particularly excellent. I admittedly did still have trouble figuring out sometimes who was who in the narrative, but this was less the fault of her terrific artwork than the overwhelming number of minor characters involved.
So in the end I’m pretty glad I got a chance to read this. Marjorie M Liu and Ms Takeda have put in a lot of work with this series, and it’s good to see that paying off for both them and the reader. I’ll certainly have a lot to think about when filling out my Hugo ballot for this category!
Monstress Vol. 5: Warchild by Marjorie M. Liu & Sana Takeda was published October 6 2020 by Image Comics and is available from all good booksellers, including