Book review: “Monster” by A. Lee Martinez

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This novel shares its one-word title with an award-winning teen novel by Walter Dean Myers, to say nothing of novels by Jonathan KellermanFrank Peretti, and Christopher Pike; plus various works of non-fiction and the Oscar-winning 2003 film starring Charlize Theron. Dallas-based author Martinez overcomes this handicap with the strikingly original move of making Monster the name of its main character (full name: Monster Dionysus): a freelance animal-rescue officer whose specialty is “cryptobiologicals”—which is to say, monsters.

Monster is a pretty average dude, like many twenty-something single guys you know. He has a skin condition that causes him to be a different color every time he wakes up. These flesh tones range from ordinary shades of red, blue, and green to more sophisticated hues such as goldenrod and scarlet; but with each color comes a different superhuman power, such as indestructibility, teleportation, the ability to fly or to glow blindingly bright for a few moments at a time. His sidekick Chester is a paper gnome, which is like a miniature origami man who can transform into a bird, an octopus, or (most conveniently) a square of paper that can fit into a shirt pocket. His girlfriend Liz is a demon from hell—a succubus, specifically—which means a more than satisfying sex life and a lot of help paying the rent; but it also means an eternity of freakish torment as soon as she catches him thinking about another woman. Just your average working stiff.

Monster doesn’t make a lot of money capturing magical creatures, and it isn’t just because he’s a bit of a slacker whose memory for spells is so spotty that he has to look everything up in a rune dictionary before he can do it. But that’s all right. At least he isn’t like most people, “incognizants” who can’t perceive magic at all because their minds automatically filter it out—or like Judy, a “light incog” who can see creatures like yetis and trolls when they’re right in front of her, but who forgets them soon afterward.

Oh yes, Judy. I almost forgot to tell you about Judy. It all turns out to revolve around her. Things start to get out of control when Judy spots a yeti in the ice cream freezer at the supermarket where she works nights. She calls the city’s animal control hotline, and they send over a very blue Monster to handle it, and so their rocky relationship starts. They never really hit it off, but after facing a giant many-legged Japanese beastie, a herd of goat people, a hydra, a dragon, and the crazy cat lady who rules the universe, they come to respect each other. More or less. But mankind is about to face an apocalypse and Judy is right in the center of it. Monster is a character and no mistake. But does have the character to help her save the world?

This is a quirky, comical, very adult fantasy adventure set in a present-day city near you. Readers who have outgrown Harry Potter will be drawn in by the magical scenario in which Judy snaps, “You’re calling me a muggle, aren’t you?… I’m not a dumbass muggle.” And even though she kind of is, she is the key to resolving a cosmic conflict that has raged for eons—part of a concept of the universe that will make Douglas Adams fans wriggle with pleasure. Both “adult” and “occult content” advisories are in order, however, as concerned Christian parents will note if they preview this book for their kids. It contains some R-rated imagery as well as the type of magic that can, for example, result in a mortal and a demon shacking up together. Also, though angels and demons are in it, it takes place in an atheistic cosmos that has evolved and disintegrated countless times. And angels, though tough on evil, are easy. If you know what I mean…