I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Only a Monster by Vanessa Len. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Only a Monster, Joan thinks she has a normal family. Sure, they bicker and tease like any family, and sure, her grandmother reminds her that they’re “monsters,” but it’s not serious. However, one night Joan finds herself confronted with terrifying strangers who can sap time away from humans’ lifetimes and use that to time travel. Turns out monsters are real, and she is one of them. Along with them, comes a young man—a “hero”—who might be destined to destroy them all. Joan has to harness her power and discover the origin of the hero before she loses everything she loves.
I didn’t know this was the first of a trilogy, which is slightly frustrating. Standalones are so underrated!
That said, I enjoyed this book. You have to feel sympathy for Joan, who very much fulfills the role of “normal person swept into a world of magic they knew nothing about.” However, the interesting twist is that the way monsters like her operate is morally very gray. Their powers are to drain the life from humans, so that they’d die sooner. And though that power is often used in moderation—only a year or so from each person, so as to not kill any on the spot—it’s also still terrible. So I liked seeing a protagonist who is, from our human perspective, a potential threat. It’s an intriguing moral quandary Joan finds herself in, especially since she’s half-monster and half-human and has been raised as a human. That was a really fascinating aspect of this.
As for the time travel magic, despite its dark source, it is so cool! Gotta love time travel, particularly in this urban fantasy book. I wish we could have gone to a more interesting setting than 1980s London, but considering how they time travel, I guess it’s for the best. Plus, I suspect there will be cool other times in the future installments.
Concerning Joan’s antagonist, the hero for the humans, I didn’t care too much about their relationship. Star-crossed lovers are, for me, only marginally better than love triangles. Plus, I wish we could have seen more of what he and Joan were like prior to becoming enemies; maybe that would have gotten me more invested.
Beyond that, I liked the other characters well enough. Ruth and Aaron were great, and though I definitely didn’t trust Tom for a long time, I ended up really liking him too. I think the bond with the most potential to be really compelling, though, is definitely Aaron and Joan. I still haven’t decided if I’ll read the next book in the series (I don’t even think there’s a release date yet, and I fear I’d forget everything that happened in this book), but those two might convince me to.
In the end, Only a Monster is a great story with some excellent characters, interesting magic, and themes that make you think. The love story didn’t wow me, though some of the action was very exciting and well done. This definitely has potential to be a fantastic trilogy, and I think fans of The Mortal Instruments or Legendborn would really love this.
Only a Monster was published on February 22nd, 2022!