4 star, YA

ARC Review: Only A Monster by Vanessa Len

Series: Monsters #1

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. 

**Only A Monster comes out February 22, 2022**

Thank you Edelweiss and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review.

Vanessa Len’s debut with an anti-hero protagonist and a morally good “villain” has my head whirling around for all sorts of reasons. I’ve barely had time to digest everything but I wanted to put all my thoughts down in this post while it’s all super fresh. I will have to be vague to keep anything from becoming spoilers, but I hope you’ll bear with me.

Joan is a monster. Or at least, half-monster since her father’s side of the family, the Asian part of her, is human. But growing up, she thought monsters were just fairy tales. Who wouldn’t? She had wanted to be Superman as a kid (what an irony, am I right?). Her moral compass seemed on the straight and narrow. Which is what drew her to the hero.

Where do I even start with Nick? This star-crossed lovers romance was what I was here for. As Joan realizes more about her monster heritage, is Nick going to be able to differentiate between the parts of herself? Is she truly monstrous? I also thought it’d be like an enemies to lovers kinda thing since, well, he hunts monsters. Doesn’t get more enemy than that. But it didn’t quite feel like that in some ways.

Star-crossed romance…or a love triangle?

I had come in thinking Nick was everything. But he wasn’t – I will get into that in a bit. Due to some really fast paced events that occur LITERALLY right out of the gate, Joan is thrusted into the monster world with, well, another monster. A monster boy named Aaron from a rival stuck-up monster family. Who is exactly the kinda character you can totally see a romance brewing between.

We actually get to know Aaron, dare I say more, than even perhaps Nick because he just has more page time. He goes from a pretentious little bugger to a pretty decent guy (he probably wouldn’t like to be described that way, but oh well) over the course of the misadventures they find themselves on. I don’t normally like love triangles, but there’re certain heartstrings being pulled in his direction.

Nick is also more than he seems. While I would’ve liked to have known him more, there was enough for me at least to start softening to this boy who only fought for what he thought is right. I mean, he has a reason to hate monsters, and a lot of monsters are downright…monstrous. Are his actions justified? I wrestle with that a lot while reading, but I can see where he’s coming from, and more importantly, so could Joan.

However, most of the romance heavy parts are actually at the end of the book and I honestly have no idea what’s to happen next. I’m as stumped as a log and only Vanessa Len knows where she’s going with the romance. And at this point, is it weird to say I actually wouldn’t mind who Joan picks? (The blasphemy!)

Traversing the plot

This book doesn’t know what a slow start means. It really just GOES from page 1. Joan didn’t really know what monsters are as her mother’s family hid it from her all her life so she (and the rest of us) are quickly thrust into the monster world without knowing the rules or ins and outs of it.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because who loves pages of information dump? I like it when the world is organically built into the story so we learn as we go. Of course, this may mean it’s rather confusing in the beginning, but that’s the payoff.

There’s time travel in this story and the mechanics of such time travel is still a little fuzzy to me. But the rest of the world building was super great. I loved getting to know a little more about the different monster families, their specific powers and the machinations of this hidden monster world among the humans.

As I mentioned, the pacing is just GO GO GO. It definitely helped to keep me reading because Joan and co. Are constantly moving from one thing to another. The start is the rockiest because it threw me off with how much of the synopsis was revealed so quickly, but the story really picks up from there in directions unknown that was exhilarating to find out.

What’s the best part of this?

We don’t get to know many characters in this story well just based on the way the plot goes, but for character-driven lovers, I think we get to know Joan very well and that’s always a highlight for me. She was new to all of this and her heart was always set towards a moral compass that didn’t love the monster side. Seeing her wrestle with literally herself was an interesting take at certain crossroads.

Did she want to be a monster? Could she do what came so easily to her family and was her birthright?

And what would she do about Nick?

That really is the question, right? And with it, the epic ending that I didn’t see coming. I really can’t say much but I’m left with so many questions. I’m glad this is a trilogy because I really do need more. The world building has been a great intro, but I can see the potential for this to continue blooming.

There’s also the matter of the romance and the unknowns of it all. But most importantly, it’s the ramifications of Joan’s actions and who she becomes that intrigues me the most. I like both Nick and Aaron (and the rest of her small gang she meets), but it’s ultimately the decisions this anti-heroine makes that drives this story for me.

I absolutely cannot wait.

Overall Recommendation:

Only A Monster is an exploration into this new and fascinating world of monsters hidden within the human one as we follow anti-hero Joan in her discovery that she is in fact not a hero but a monster. The pacing just hits you from the very start with time travel and fights with the morally good hero, Nick. There is absolutely so much potential for this world to grow, and the knowledge we gain is organic as we learn alongside Joan how the Monster world operates. Romance lovers don’t have to fear because we not only get a star-crossed romance but potentially a love triangle brewing for Joan as monsters and heroes fight to save their own. While it can be rushed at times and more than a little confusing at the beginning, I love this debut by Vanessa Len and the ending makes me want to see more of who Joan is. I highly recommend you check it out (and if you’ve already heard hype, it’s definitely real).


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