James Nicoll Reviews

Home > Reviews > Post

A Lead Role in a Cage

Monstress, volume 4

By Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda 

29 May, 2020

Doing What the WFC Cannot Do


Support me with a Patreon monthly subscription!

2019’s Monstress, Volume 41, collects issues 19 – 24 of Marjorie Lui’s ongoing epic fantasy comic. The series is drawn by Sana Takeda.

Having saved the city of Pontus and the world in general from a cosmic horror from beyond the stars, Maika Halfwolf sets out to rescue her small friend, fox girl Kippa, who was betrayed by a trusted friend and carried off in the previous installment. 

The great conflict that shapes Maika’s world is driven by the Federation of Man’s belief that the semi-divine — but sadly, often defenseless — Arcanics are beasts. The Federation’s Cumaea witches believe that the Arcanics are just the sentient ore from which magical fuel can be made. Kippa is Arcanic, so it would be logical to assume that she was kidnapped to be sold to the Federation. 

This is not the case. The agents who carried off Kippa off are all Arcanics and they work for a fellow Arcanic, the Lord Doctor. They have no idea why the Lord Doctor wants the fox girl, nor are they curious. No sensible minion wants to fail or even question the Lord Doctor.

Kippa manages to escape from her captors. Her flight takes her into ancient ruins that are inhabited by some eerie power. Visitors can enter the ruins, but they never leave. 

Maika overcomes numerous obstacles to make her way into the Lord Doctor’s hidden fortress. There she finds that Kippa is nowhere to be seen and that the Lord Doctor is a would-be world conqueror commanding an army of cultists. AND … the Lord Doctor just happens to be Maika’s long absent father. He has grand plans for her as well. Or to be more exact, plans for the cosmic horror concealed within Maika.


As murder hobo stories go, this features more murder than most. There’s contending states and entrenched racism; but also there’s also a community of horrific Monstrums eager to consume everything living in Maika’s world. This is an epic fantasy and a horror story. Two genres in one!

Monstress is consistently bleak. Most characters have hidden agendas and cannot be trusted. The occasional exceptions are people with open agendas that make it clear that they are untrustworthy too. Secondary characters don’t seem to have plot armour (Kippa aside) but thus far the villains are invulnerable. It’s a well-written series, but it’s also pretty depressing. 

Sana Takeda’s art is incredible. Shame that the world it depicts is so unrelentingly grim.

I can’t say that I liked this; it’s not a pleasant diversion for a relaxing afternoon. It’s more that I felt horrified fascination and couldn’t stop reading. You are warned. 

Monstress, Volume 4 is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Book Depository), here (Barnes and Noble), and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: How cunning of me to have previously reviewed the first book in the collected series, which includes volumes one through three.