Only A Monster (Monsters #1) by Vanessa Len
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
Young Adult, Fantasy
Release Date : 17th February 2022 (UK) & 22nd February 2022 (US)
With the sweeping romance of Passenger and the dark fantasy edge of This Savage Song, this standout YA contemporary fantasy debut from Vanessa Len, is the first in a planned trilogy.
It should have been the perfect summer. Sent to stay with her late mother’s eccentric family in London, sixteen-year-old Joan is determined to enjoy herself. She loves her nerdy job at the historic Holland House, and when her super cute co-worker Nick asks her on a date, it feels like everything is falling into place.
But she soon learns the truth. Her family aren’t just eccentric: they’re monsters, with terrifying, hidden powers. And Nick isn’t just a cute boy: he’s a legendary monster slayer, who will do anything to bring them down.
As she battles Nick, Joan is forced to work with the beautiful and ruthless Aaron Oliver, heir to a monster family that hates her own. She’ll have to embrace her own monstrousness if she is to save herself, and her family. Because in this story . . .
. . . she is not the hero.
“You’re a hero and I’m a monster,” she whispered, “There’s only one way that story ever ends.”
ARC provided by the publisher Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Only A Monster is a sickening twist in the classic chosen one trope proving to be a stand out amongst 2022 debuts.
In the month of November I decided to read as many as I can and this book is amongst the hopeful candidates in my NetGalley November TBR. From reading the premise the story is quite vague and didn’t give out a lot besides being an urban fantasy with the promise of monsters which I’m looking forward to. Based on my taste I do adore stories set in a modern world with fantastical elements blended into them so I try my best to not set my expectations too high. I went in completely blind beforehand to completely delete any prior expectations and it was an experience reading this book. Before I dive right in, let’s admire the cover art of both UK and US editions. The one I’m currently using is the UK edition done by Malaysian illustrator, After Blossom and designed by Lydia Blagden. While the cover of the US edition is done by Eevien Tan and designed by Jessie Gang. Both covers are truly remarkable in their own styles, with the UK serving a more eclectic approach compared to the tapestry-esque visuals of the US edition. Both are gorgeous and you’ll probably have a hard time picking which one to choose!
If you were faced with two choices, you’d always choose the right one.
Only A Monster the debut novel by new up and coming author Vanessa Len set to release in spring of 2022. It is a young adult dark fantasy story set in 21st century London following Joan, a sixteen year old biracial girl that is spending her summer break with her mother’s eccentric family. On one particular afternoon Joan is off to meet her date Nick, a boy she’s been crushing on at her workplace. But things go completely wrong when Joan was trying to help a neighbor of hers and somehow she fast forwarded herself a few hours into the future. Joan is stunned not knowing what had happened during the scuffle to cause the time jump. Overnight Joan’s world is turned up side down as her family is hunted one by one by Nick that has sworn to save the world and kill all monsters including her. With the help of an unlikely ally Aaron of the Oliver family, the sworn enemy of her own family, she is thrusted into the world of monsters dead set to things right and save their families from a bloody fate.
“Olivers see. Hunts hide. Nowaks live. Patels bind. Portellis open. Hathaways leash. Nightingales Take. Mtawalis keep. Argents sway. Alis seal. Griffiths reveal. But only the Lius remember.”
Vanessa Len’s debut is an ambitious concept weaving magic, fate, and timelines to create a fast paced time travelling thriller fantasy. The magic system in Only A Monster is the core of the story as it is the main plot tool that fuels the whole book. There is a stigma when it comes to time travelling stories as there is a pre-conception of it being used as an easy exit. That isn’t the case for Only A Monster as Len created a well balanced magic system with consequence and draw backs for using the magic. The checks and balances of the magic impressed me but it could’ve been much more interesting if it was explained more in depth. Len also added a twist in the magic that is connected the family lineage of the prominent monster families in the story. Each family has a unique characteristic and their lineage grants someone in the family to manifest a magical ability that is exclusively their own, adding a plus one to their stats as magic users. These families are connected to the politics of the world with their rivalries and prejudices of each other that I find intriguing.
Combining these amazing concepts with Len’s ability in writing an addictive and fast paced story Only A Monster isn’t an easy book to put down. The pacing for this story is a mediumly paced neither slow nor fast paced as it switches back and forth between the two, as the pacing and plot relies a lot on the characters. Pacing wise Len masterfully struck a good balance that made the reading experience much more enjoyable. Since Only A Monster is set mostly in London during different timelines—the world building’s only forms as a back drop for the characters. For readers that expect stunning visuals of an epic world Only A Monster isn’t that book because the world is a love letter to London and it’s ever evolving city scape through time.
For monsters, blood didn’t come into it. Family was power and power was family.
Regarding themes the story shines light on, topics such as identity and family are weaved in the characterization of Len’s characters. Joan is a biracial girl born from a Malaysian father and a British mother. Joan has struggled with her identity and place in her mom’s family during the summers she spent with them. She always felt like an outsider looking in brushing off their family oddities as a normal thing. Even though Joan has these thoughts she loves her family dearly and would do anything for them as evident in her whole character arc. To an extent Joan’s characterization is well fleshed out and she developed slowly to become who she is by the end of the story. Though there are a few gripes about the certain parts of Joan that’s inconsistent during a few parts that hindered me from fully investing in Joan’s growth. Frankly, Joan is written like a gullible and clueless girl during the start of the story which is understandable for reasons I can’t explain because of spoilers. Personally, I have nothing against characters that are like this as long as they are written well and their actions made sense. As the story progressed I became more and more baffled by Joan because her cluelessness turned into plain ignorance that is fueled by her ‘instincts’ and ‘gut feeling’. I understand that this is a matter of preference and I shouldn’t be so worked up by this but I value characters a lot in books. If I slowly dislike a character it’ll break the story for me. Hopefully in the sequels Joan’s growth would be more significant as she learns from all of the incidents that happened in this first book.
“Wherever you were,” she said, “I wanted to be there too. Your were like the sun. I was always turning toward you.”
Compared to Joan the development of the antagonist is more noteworthy for me. Nick’s whole story arc made the story all the more interesting and adds a twist that I didn’t expect. The complicated relationship between Nick and Joan is the tortured fated romance that got me shaking at the edge of my seat as Len pulls at my heart strings with their ill fated love. Nick’s character arc is also a sickeningly twisted version of the chosen one trope that got me thirsting for more. I’m looking forward to seeing him in the sequels because the potential in his arc is endless. The other characters such as Oliver and Joan’s cousin are lacking in characterization. In my opinion Oliver’s characterization could’ve been explored and developed further than in the story. Overall, the characterization in Only A Monster is good but not to the point that I am invested in them. There isn’t enough complexities in their being and depth in personality that can leave an impression on me. They are good characters with potential that I hope to see develop in the coming sequels.
And, at the end of it, everything had changed.
Final thoughts, Only A Monster is a solid debut with an ambitious and intriguing magic system about a fast paced chase across time balancing fate and prophecies between two ill fated characters. Even though there are parts that I hindered from fully investing in the characters there are a lot of potential in the magic, setting, and the over arching main plot of the story that I’m looking forward to in the sequel. In my opinion, Len’s debut can be categorized as one of the strongest coming into 2022 with Len’s impeccable characterization and vivid world building. I can see a lot of readers enjoying this story and I highly recommend for everyone to pre order a copy or add it to their 2022 TBRs. For those who are curious about the book you can read an extract of the story here.
The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.