I have a confession: I am not and have never really been that into steampunk or sci-fi. I get the draw, but it’s just not really my thing. And that’s ok. Monstress by Marjorie Liu, takes place in a world deeply steeped in ancient Far East and steampunk mythology. When Vol. 1: Awakening came out in July of last year, I admit I was hesitant to read it because of this steampunk aspect. Fast forward a year later and I’ve had Vol. 2: The Blood on hold since May. I could not wait to read this. Marjorie Liu builds a rich matriarchal world, but it is a world divided between magical half-human half-animal beings (Arcanics) and human witch-nuns (the Cumea) who consume Arcanics as their source of power. Maika Halfwolf is our Arcanic main character who is essentially playing host to an incredibly dark and powerful old-world god. She constantly needs to compromise with this god so that it does not consume her completely before she finds out what it’s doing there, how it came to live inside her, what it has to do with her lost mother, and why the Cumea want it so badly. In Vol. 2: The Blood, we see Maika striking out on her own after denying the help of some Arcanics who wish to trap and draw out the god inside her before it becomes more destructive. Maika, on the other hand, wants to use the god’s power to help her on her quest for answers and to destroy her enemies (yas queen). She runs into some old friends and begins searching the known world for answers by sailing to the dangerous Island of Bones. There she finds some clues about her mysterious mother, her own family bloodline and the part it all plays in the monster making it’s home inside her. This world and story is dense and it reads more like an epic fantasy novel than a comic, with single-page snippets between chapters that explain more about the world and other characters involved. Sana Takeda’s illustrations are stunning and beautifully colored, bringing together the ancient lives and Far East landscapes of the Arcanics with the steampunk, art deco, science heavy cities of the Cumea in a way that is not overwhelming and very well-spaced. There are moments of strong violence; and although not messy violent, I would recommend this for teens to adults due to the nature of that violence.
Like steampunk, the dystopian sci-fi genre is hard for me to get into. Luckily, I’m a sucker for great graphic design, which is what prompted me to pick up Paper Girls by Brian K Vaughan (Just look at it, so minimalistic! So bright! So clean!). I am so glad I did, and that this series was my introduction to Brian K. Vaughan. Brian K. Vaughan, most well-known for his series Saga and Ex Machina among others, is a Cleveland native and Cleveland is the initial setting of Paper Girls. Beginning in 1988, the series follows four “Cleveland Preserver” paper girls from the suburb of “Stony Stream,” whose morning paper route turns into a sci-fi, time-travel fiasco. After finding a time travel machine, future technologies (read, any 2017 device and beyond) and versions of their future selves in Volumes 1 & 2, Volume 3 finds the paper girls in the year 11,706 BCE to escape the adults from the far future that are hunting them. While in 11,706 BCE, the girls reunite with a missing friend and learn more about how embroiled they are in this time travel, future earth business. The most refreshing part of this time travel aspect is that the paper girls travel to different times but only on earth. No other planets, no other planes, just earth at any and all time throughout its existence. It makes this series really easy to follow and allows it to explore more of the characters we meet and how technology permeates their daily lives. This is most succinctly represented by the unabashed use of the Apple icon on almost all future technology and devices the girls find that furthers the plot, whether threatening or beneficial. It is details like these that make Paper Girls a subtle but powerfully relevant series.
Anyone who is familiar with Cleveland will be met with enjoyable nostalgia while reading this series. From the suburban residential streets, schools and malls to the Flats and downtown Cleveland, this series perfectly showcases late 80s and 90s Cleveland. It instantly brings me back to growing up in Garfield Heights. Cliff Chiang and Matt Wilson do a great job illustrating these familiar landscapes. There is a great balance between the dialogue of the characters and what is visually going on with them and their background. Neither overpowers the other, and at least for me, that is ideal for a sci-fi plot like this. They perfectly nail the feeling of Cleveland and this makes Paper Girls a must-read for anyone who grew up here. There is some strong language and mild violence so I would recommend Paper Girls for 7th grade and older.
Up Next: Great Series to Start for Teens Gabe Kusner is a Youth Services Assistant at our Bainbridge Branch. She is currently reading The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman.