Only a Monster is a novel I’ve been anticipating for months—since the moment I’ve read the blurb on Goodreads, really—and I was so sure I would fall heads over heels in love with it. A monster as a main character? A monster slayer as a love interest? COUNT ME IN. Looking at my three-star rating, you can already guess that sadly, even though I liked reading it for the most part, it wasn’t the complete success I was expecting it to be. Let’s see why, shall we?
Let me say first that as a series, the premise has a lot of potential— as a book, it’s definitely not perfect, but it’s one of those times when we can see how the world and story can—and, I hope, will— expand. The story starts when Joan, a British-Chinese 16 years-old, learns that she’s a monster with hidden abilities, like all the maternal side of her family. In that sense, this is very much a chosen one story, but one where the main character doesn’t want anything to do with it, really. Indeed Joan, who is dead set on following rules and being a good person in general, doesn’t want to embrace her monstrous side. In all honestly, I’d probably react the same way. Who wants to be the bad guy? I’ve always believed that the best written villains were the ones who thought they were the good guys, and I liked how Only a Monster touched this subject not once but twice. Things aren’t set in stone, and Joan soon realizes that when tragedy strikes, doing the right thing is not always an obvious choice. How will she navigate her path forwards? I guess you’ll see 😉
Overall I liked Joan as a main character—she’s a bit reckless and thinks she knows best, sure, but she’s also a 16 years-old put in a very difficult situation, so you’ll get no judgment from me. I do wish I’d have grown more attached to her but I still have hope for the sequel! Where Only a Monster shined was with its compelling side-characters : from Joan’s family to her—sometimes unlikely—allies, I really enjoyed getting to know them and seeing their dynamics play out and evolve. Aaron and Tom in particular picked my interest : Aaron because I’m a very predictable reader—you cannot give me an enemy… who’s cranky, a bit of a snob, mysterious, but goes all soft sometimes, and not expect me to like him, really— and Tom because his story moved me.
The world-building was interesting and I enjoyed getting to know about the different families’ powers. I hope it will be expanded in the sequel, because I want to explore!!!! The magic system was a bit inconsistant at times however and some events looked a bit too convenient. It didn’t prevent me from having fun, but I did notice the few discrepancies. It always comes back to the same rule, really : you can’t say something isn’t possible and then change it later to further the plot when you need it. I mean, you can, but it’s unlikely it won’t get me out of the story, even if it’s only for a few seconds. As for the time-travel aspects, I really liked them : the restrictions Vanessa Len imagined were interesting and made for a more compelling story in my opinion.
Overall the writing was decent, nothing special but nothing overtly annoying either. I really wasn’t a fan of the prose at the beginning, but it got better along the way. I did notice a few repetitions in dialog and the use of adverbs was a bit too much for my liking, but as it’s an arc I’ll definitely check the physical copy!
My biggest complain was the romance and the lack of any kind of build-up. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the main ship relies on the soulmate trope—the author herself mentioned it several times on social media—and unfortunately it didn’t work for me at all. Really, it made me remember why I didn’t like soulmates stories—it’s been so long since I’ve read one that I thought that maybe, this time, I would enjoy it but nah. The suddenness of it all ruins the tension—I don’t care if they’ve loved each other forever when for me, the reader, it appears out of thin air. I genuinely can’t see how I’m supposed to care? It does not mean that I cannot enjoy soulmate stories. It’s VERY rare, but it’s happened. For this to work however there need to be some kind of relationship between the mc and her “fated” love-interest IN THE PRESENT TIMELINE, IN TEXT. Given that Nick was absent for most of the book—and replaced with another boy way more interesting anyway—it just couldn’t work and I didn’t buy their “love”. It didn’t help that I couldn’t care for Nick as a character either, and for the same reasons : I’m sorry but I just don’t know him. Aaron, however, I could (WOULD) ship with her because they actually have an evolving relationship I can see myself getting invested in (their last scene in particular? SO MUCH POTENTIAL). I guess we’ll see where it all goes in the sequels but I definitely need more.
All in all, Only a Monster is a good debut novel that managed to keep my interest alive until the very end. Even though I had my qualms and it never totally won me over, I’ll definitely read the sequel and I would recommend reading it if you enjoy PNR/UF YA stories.
Thank you to the publisher -Hodder & Stoughton- for sending me an ARC to review through Netgalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
About Only a Monster
Author : Vanessa Len | Publisher : Hodder & Stoughton | Genre : YA Fantasy | Pages : 368
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.