The uncertainty of ‘Monster’

This is one helluva book cover. Bravo.

This is one helluva book cover. Bravo.

When I’m in the library, I’m usually there looking for something specific. But while I seek what I know I want, I try to keep my eye out for something I don’t know I want. Which is how I stumbled upon A. Lee Martinez’s Monster.

The premise is goofily brilliant: Monster is a human “cog,” a muggle who sees and remembers magic. So much so that he went to magic school to become the equivalent of a multi-dimensional pest-control professional or “cryptobiological containment expert.” Instead of traps and poisons, Monster has to rely on magic, and in his case, runes are his favorite weapon. Monster also has a unique physical feature: He changes color (usually) when he loses consciousness, either via sleep or being knocked out. And when he changes color, his power changes as well. For example, when Monster is blue, he’s virtually invincible.

There’s a girl as well. (There always is, isn’t there?). Judy’s life is a mess, with odd, destructive things always happening around her, problems she is blamed for but isn’t responsible for … or at least she doesn’t think she is. After a group (herd? flock? gaggle?) of yeti invade the supermarket she works at, she meets Monster, and the tale unfolds from there.

It’s a terrific set-up. There are plenty of funny situations, and the secondary characters – Monster’s girlfriend from Hell, his paper man sidekick, the hippie grandmother villain and more – are a hoot. Martinez has some real vision when it comes to his creation and how he uses a vast catalog of fantastic creatures is something to behold. And yet …

Somehow Monster is lacking something. It was a fun read, no denying it. But authors I thought of who have had success with similar sci-fi/fantasy tones, such as Christopher Moore and Neil Gaman, their work sticks with me afterward. I find myself thinking about the exploits of the Other Mother or the Emperor days afterward. Nothing from Monster stuck with me like that.

Again, this isn’t to say Monster is bad. It just didn’t resonate at the depth other books from the same genre have for me. I’ll definitely check out Martinez again, in part because I had fun with Monster, in part because I wonder if I’ll connect more with other works in his catalog.

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