With its equally intricate characterisation and beautiful illustrations (especially of the settings), Marjorie Liu’s “Monstress (Volume Two: The Blood)” is an excellent follow-up to the first volume of the series, which ended with the trio of Maika Halfwolf, Kippa, and Ren escaping from their encounter with the Dusk Court. In fact, the narrative resumes against the same background of unanswered questions revolving around Maika the protagonist – revolving for instance around her history and her mother, the mask fragment she carries around, as well as the ancient monster which is trapped in her left arm – and Maika herself and her companions, with their growing interactions, familiarity, and comfort with one another, remain in the dark too.
In particular, the unexpected plot development or chain of events across panels and pages – invoking intense feelings of shock and horror amidst the aforementioned atmosphere of uncertainty – is very well executed. Even though this second volume does not quite provide many answers (even if it does foreshadow potential conflicts and creates anticipation for the third and final volume), and the bulk of it is limited to Maika’s journey to and on the Isle of Bone where her mother had previously visited and survived, there is still a good mix of violence and fights, simmering tensions between characters, and the revelation of small details to keep the reader guessing and entertained. And again through the trials and tribulations, as the main trio only grow closer, the reader not only gets to know them better, but also becomes more attached to them.
In the bigger picture, “Monstress (Volume Two: The Blood)” begins to tease the broader, historical clashes involving the monster trapped in Maika’s left arm, revealed to be the monstrum Zinn. The ancient Blood Fox – who is bound by chains, at the centre of the Isle of Bones – first provides Maika with some information about the Shaman Empress and her mask and the ancient monster trapped within, about the breaking of the mask, and the reason for Maika’s conception, and as the main trio make their way off the island, even more information is provided by the Zinn, who begins to remember figments of his past and of his connection to the Shaman Empress. It now hinges on the developments to come, to ascertain the extent to which the threads are tied together.