The second volume of a trilogy can go either way. Stuck between exposition and climax, it can be too easy to tread water and save the best moments for the finale. The second volume of the supernatural horror series Night Eaters, Her Little Reapers, by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda (October, 2023, Abrams) does not tread water. Visually beautifully, narratively complete, and incredibly accomplished, it makes a strong claim for book of the year.
Her Little Reapers picks up the story from book one, She Eats the Night. Twins Milly and Billy Ting are coming to grips with the big revelation about their supernatural heritage, but as usual, aren’t getting much practical or emotional support from their distant parents Ipo and Keon. Tension builds as they get drawn into a gruesome cult of posh demons who feast on the souls of sacrificed children.
The genre-oriented plot, which is straightforward if layered with lots of twists and chills, belies the care, complexity and light touch that Liu and Takeda bring to the material. Milly and Billy are bickering siblings saddled with familiar young-adult problems. Their mother Ipo is sour and demanding, literally a Tiger Mom from Hell. Keon’s breezy charm keeps everyone at a distance except Ipo, with whom he enjoys a singularly close relationship. The family dynamics are immediately recognizable and universal, despite being rooted very specifically in Chinese-American immigrant experience.
Liu’s story is steeped in GenZ sensibilities, with lots of TikTok culture and subtle references to influencers and content creators, but never feels like it is talking down to its audience. It even contains a few easter eggs for older readers. All the characters feel well rounded and authentic, with genuine and often hilarious reactions to everything from annoying relatives to supernatural mayhem.
Takeda illustrates the story with manga-style physical exaggeration of postures and expressions, but western style pacing and staging of panels, all rendered in a the beautiful muted watercolor style she unveiled in book one. Each panel is layered with subtle textures in the skin tones and background, and each page looks like it could hang in a museum.
As in the first volume, a lot of the story comes through in the body language and facial expressions of the characters. Because Her Little Reapers is set during the height of COVID, that means Takeda has to depict some of those scenes with characters wearing masks. She is more than up to the challenge.
Liu and Takeda’s stylistic range helps them deliver the abrupt tonal shifts in the narrative, from domestic comedy to Junji Ito-style gore and body horror, sometimes several times on the same page. Every scene is well constructed, and pays off with either a laugh or a jump-scare. It is difficult to imagine the inevitable film or streaming adaptation will realize these moments as well as the book, although Liu and Takeda lay down a clear roadmap for whoever is going to attempt it.
Most importantly, Her Little Reapers advances the overall arc and develops the Night Eaters world while also delivering a narrative that is whole and complete in itself. It does not exactly stand alone because you really want the setup from She Eats the Night, but it feels less like a place holder and more like a step forward. That is encouraging because Liu and Takeda’s world is one readers will want to spend at least one more volume in.