Monster (A Lee Martinez)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Monster is a strange urban fantasy adventure. There is hunting of supernatural creatures, but it really doesn’t fit into the standard mold of urban fantasy where that is the focus. It feels a bit more like a tour through a weird and deranged shadow world that mirrors our own, the only difference being the inclusion of the magical. I quite liked this book. The characters aren’t exactly relatable or even necessarily likable, but they have a certain sense of rightness in the odd dystopia the author has overlaid on our contemporary reality. Among all the oddities that the author presents, there is an undercurrent of normal everyday life. These are people whose principal ambition isn’t to topple a dark lord or save the world from destruction, but to spend a quiet evening at home drinking a beer and watching TV. I liked this book a great deal, and would heartily recommend it to fans of contemporary fantasy that departs a bit from the standard formula.

Greater Detail:
Judy stocks shelves at a local supermarket. Monster is a freelance pest control technician who specializes in containing magical creatures. When Judy is beset with the continuous appearance of supernatural creatures, Monster must reluctantly help her discover the cause of her affliction and help her stop it.

I’m hard pressed to describe this style of fantasy. Urban fantasy has come to be dominated by a few common formulas, like boy meets girl they fight monsters together then fall in love, ordinary person discovers a secret world of magic and it turns out they are some sort of super entity in the magical world and they have to fix everything, or film noir style detective solves supernatural cases while being poor and kind of a jerk. Books like Monster really don’t fit into any of these standard archetypes. I guess I would describe this setting more as ordinary people trying to cope with frighteningly alien supernatural elements by making it part of their ordinary routines.

Because of this odd approach, the setting feels very vibrant and organic. It feels like a living, breathing world that you could step into and live an ordinary life in rather than one full of constant adventure and world changing decisions. That’s not to say the setting isn’t interesting; quite the contrary, I was thoroughly engrossed by the snippets of ordinary life that the author lets us discover. Although it used many common urban fantasy and mythological sources, the setting feels fresh and unique, as I haven’t seen anyone using a combination like this before or seen a setting in such an ordinarily supernatural world.

With all this gushing about the quality of the setting and imagination, you may be wondering why I didn’t give it an even higher review. Well, I guess that would be because, although I thoroughly enjoyed the book, beyond the clever setting and fun atmosphere there really wasn’t all that much to it. The characters are fairly ordinary people who aren’t particularly likeable, and there really isn’t all that much to the story when you get right down to it. Most of the scenes are there to provide interesting sights and contribute to the aura of mystery and weirdness rather than being absolutely essential to the progression of the plot. I suspect that most readers would enjoy this book, but although I love style and atmosphere, I want a meaty story to go along with it, and this book just doesn’t deliver.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
This reminded me a bit of Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys. The settings are similarly weird, with the magical and mundane sliding around each other, and there is a common sense of almost dissociative alienness to both books that made me think readers of one would probably like the other

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