Only a Monster is a debut novel by Vanessa Len, an Australian author of Chinese-Malaysian and Maltese heritage. The novel follows sixteen-year-old Joan, who is staying with her late mother’s eccentric family in London for the summer. Life finally feels like it is falling into place for Joan — she loves her job at the historic Holland House and has been asked on a date by her crush and co-worker Nick. However, all of this changes when she touches an older man on the neck in a good samaritan attempt gone wrong and finds herself time travelling. Joan soon discovers that her family are more than eccentric — they’re monsters. And Nick isn’t just her crush — he’s a monster hunter.
Len’s debut contains many of the much-loved tropes of the urban fantasy genre: a teen girl who finds herself coming into new powers, heroes versus villains, and enemies to lovers. Simultaneously, however, Len subverts the genre, offering a fresh and unique take on young adult fiction. Len puts us on the side of the monsters and leaves us questioning what truly makes a monster a monster. The magic system deployed by Len is also highly unique, with each family possessing different powers and their own monster secrets.
Furthermore, the novel is thrilling and fast-paced. However, the pacing does become an issue as the novel begins to feel rushed and skimmed over. As a result, both the plot and the characters can feel undeveloped at times. On a similar note, Len’s writing tends to read as more middle grade than young adult. Consequently, the characters come across as superficial and one dimensional, making it difficult to feel invested in the story and its outcome.
Nonetheless, Only a Monster is a highly enjoyable and refreshing read that offers a much needed new take on the young adult fantasy genre.