Monsters Among Us: A Review of Only a Monster

Only a Monster
Vanessa Len
February 22, 2022
Ages 13-17 

In this first installment of a planned trilogy, debut author Vanessa Len lays down the foundations of a world where monsters live among humans, appearing no different from their human counterparts. Monsters’ primary ability involves travelling through time, though in order to do so they must “steal time” from humans, shortening the lifespans of their victims. Beyond this ability that is shared by all monsters, each also has an additional ability shared by their family line. The story’s protagonist, Joan, is half-monster, half-human, and the monster half of her family has intentionally hidden the full extent of their abilities from her. Shortly after accidentally using her powers for the first time and learning the truth about them, Joan also learns that her crush, Nick, has sworn to destroy all monsters. Joan escapes a massacre, where the victims include most of her own family. As Joan teams up with another survivor of the massacre, she must quickly learn how to navigate not only her powers, but the entire society and hierarchy of monsters living hidden throughout London. 

Despite being the first in a series, Only a Monster can stand on its own as the primary conflict is solved by the end of the book, with greater unresolved questions looming for those who will wait for its sequels. Its primary theme relates to morality, and the ambiguity of good versus evil, with the ever-present question being whether monsters are always evil, and heroes are always good. Another central theme is that of adapting to a new society. In the monster world, Joan feels out of place as she is half-human. Since her family hid the truth about monsters from her, Joan is not aware of monster society which has its own rules about what can and cannot be done regarding time travel, as well as urban legends which end up having truth to them as Joan learns more.  She also alludes to feeling out of place in the human world as well due to being of mixed race. The supporting cast is also diverse, featuring characters of various ethnicities and sexualities. While the story gets dark, and features depictions of death, it is not overly graphic. Fantasy readers who enjoy time travel and related themes, such as alternate timelines, are sure to enjoy this fast-paced read.