Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s fantasy series Monstress is a stunning project. Full of elaborate world-building and mythology, and packed with lushly illustrated intrigue and violence, it’s instantly memorable from the first installment. But seven years and seven complex, winding books into the story, it can be a daunting undertaking. Liu and Takeda’s new project together, The Night Eaters, may be a more accessible way into the enjoyably nightmarish work they do together.
The first in a projected three-book series, The Night Eaters Book. 1: She Eats the Night introduces the Tings, a family of first- and second-generation Chinese expats who live in a quiet neighborhood in Hawaii — across the street from an extremely haunted house full of unsettling manifestations. Young adults Milly and Billy run a popular, successful restaurant together, but their glowering mother Ipo appears to disapprove of everything they do. Their easygoing father Keon acts as a buffer between angry mom and defensive kids, but when Ipo decides to address the haunted house and drags her children into it, he’s stuck going along for the bloody ride.
In some ways, Night Eaters’ first installment tells a familiar story about second-generation immigrant life, the kind of family conflict that’s so often seen in Asian diaspora stories, including recent hits like Pixar’s Turning Red and Everything Everywhere All At Once. Twins Milly and Billy were born in Hawaii and live thoroughly Americanized lives, with Billy obsessing over video games and Milly expressing herself loudly and coarsely, between rounds of “drunk regret sex” with her ex-boyfriend.
Ipo and Keon, meanwhile, share a lived-in, comfortable relationship full of shorthand and meaningful looks, but they can’t find that kind of comfort with their children. The parents have a long history together that unfolds through carefully doled-out flashbacks to their early lives in Hong Kong, between sequences of the haunted-house situation escalating in increasingly gory and grotesque ways. All four characters are gradually revealed as a lot more than their surface stereotypes suggest, but Ipo’s irritated fearlessness over the horrors waiting for her next door conceals the book’s most thrilling revelations.
“I’m pretty sure that I lived in a haunted house when I was a very little girl,” Liu tells Polygon. “I’d see things, hear things, there were rooms — bright, cheerful rooms — that I was terrified to be in. That’s a whole other story. But there was also a doll. My mom’s doll, from when she was little, which she found in a box after a visit to see my grandmother. I know she loved that doll, but it terrified me. It was very tall — taller than me — and had big glass eyes that moved inside the sockets. I swear those eyes watched me, no matter where I was in a room. To this day, dolls creep me out.”
Incredibly creepy dolls play a significant role in Night Eaters’ first stand-alone graphic novel. See below for a sample from the book as Ipo first begins pondering how she’ll handle the haunted house, and walks into it to hang out with its complement of cursed toys.
The Night Eaters Book 1: She Eats the Night is available now.