Review by Karl Verhoven
When it comes to the borderlands fusing horror and fantasy Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda are purveyors of proven delight with their Monstress series. The Night Eaters, then, is a bittersweet pill. On the one hand it’s a new dose of thrills from a reliable creative team, but on the other Monstress remains unfinished, and Takeda’s immensely detailed art is a time-consuming process.
To begin with, note it as a quality benchmark, but set aside any further thoughts of Monstress as although this also deals with what lies within, it’s a very different form of horror. Central character Ipo’s story unfolds via two separate narratives. In the present day she’s living in Queen’s Village, New York, ignoring covid regulations, as a chain-smoking old grump who’s a complete contrast to the beautiful young woman introduced taking the ferry Hong Kong in 1957 hoping to make a name for herself in films. In New York her children run a successful business, but her combative daughter Milly in particular resents that nothing they ever do is good enough for their mother.
A leisurely and thoroughly compulsive introduction of a family where there’s an emotional chasm between mother and daughter precedes the first manifestations of horror. From the beginning it’s established Ipo cares deeply about plants, and because the house opposite hers is so overgrown the local estate agent can’t sell it. Anyone not put off by the vegetation is immediately repulsed by the strange smell. Ipo knows about the strangeness, though, and decides to do something.
Takeda’s pages are dense, but not as detailed as the style used for Monstress. Moods are conveyed well via expressions and posture, and the way she uses colour ensures a downbeat tone throughout, everything rendered in muted colour that hangs a pall. For two-thirds of She Eats the Night Takeda is relatively restrained, but when the action rush arrives it’s prolonged and terrifying. Never has the phrase “Mom needs some time on her own” been dropped in such a sinister fashion.
Alongside the family dynamics Liu is also introducing the strangeness, sometimes in passing, and sometimes almost rubbed in readers’ faces. There is a family heritage, only hinted at here, but something terrible and profoundly disturbing. It explains Ipo’s callous attitude and her misplaced ideas about raising children, and once that’s known her being portrayed at the start as a domineering Chinese mother is a clever and funny subversion of stereotyping. The reveal also explains why some of the cast seem less than fully formed, although son Billy never quite gels.
She Eats the Night is the first third of a trilogy, although a satisfying and complete story in itself. Defying convention, it’s the final chapter that details the necessary elements of Billy and Milly growing up, filling in some gaps and setting up the future. We know the family well now, and late 2023 brings the sequel Her Little Reapers.