The problem with a series that has a world this rich and interesting and storytelling so incredibly dense by modern standards is that with this third volume I’m already feeling the need to go back and read the first two. Usually that feeling doesn’t set in until around vol. 5 or 6 for some series, but consider “Monstress” to be an overachiever here in that regard. Another reason for this feeling is that where vol. 2 was remarkably focused in the central quest facing Maika Halfwolf and Zinn, the Monstrum who is bonded to her, with fox-girl Kippa and duplicitous cat Ren along for moral support, “Haven” casts a narrative net as large as the island that our protagonists have found themselves confined to. That would be Pontus which boasts an Arcanic-made shield mechanism that allowed it to ride out the previous war relatively unscathed. Unfortunately people responsible for the shield currently lack the means to restart it again and have turned to the reluctant Maika and the more pragmatic Zinn as their best option here. Meanwhile, Kippa starts working with the other fox-type Arcanic refugees in the hopes of finding her aunt, Ren finds himself up against a moral wall with the “one last job” his bosses have in mind for him, the other Monstrum make their moves and a marriage is planned in the Dawn Court.
In addition to all that you have the many revelations that Maika and Zinn encounter when they’re forced to break into the Shaman-Empress’ old labs. There is A LOT to parse here and working your way through it can feel daunting. Or occasionally like a chore whenever Maika is doing the whole “I don’t need friends” routine even though we all know how that’s going to turn out. What makes all this worth absorbing, in addition to the fact that it all does cohere to face down a singular threat in the end, is the additional depth it adds to this already-fascinating world that Marjorie Liu has created. It also helps that, for all her petulance, Liu has turned Maika into an engagingly unconventional protagonist through her odd-couple relationship with Zinn as the two continue to work towards a better understanding of the other here. Then there’s the utterly astounding art from Sana Takeda who shows us on Every. Single. Page. why she won the Eisner for “Best Painter/Multimedia Artist” this year, and will likely continue to do so for as long as this series is being published. So even if “Monstress” becomes something that’s more difficult to appreciate with this volume, it also makes a strong case as to why readers should continue to invest in it as well. And to re-read the previous volumes before vol. 4 arrives next year.