Review: The Monster Who Wasn't
Most of us have believed in monsters at some point in our lives, whether metaphorically or from when we believed they dwelt underneath our beds and behind our bedroom doors. This extraordinary middle grade fiction not only reignites the notion that we coexist with all manner of devilish beasts, it bravely intimates that not all of them are bad. Could there be some that fall somewhere in between good and bad? Is it possible to love a monster?
Sam hatches one fateful night in the vast underground lair where all monsters dwell and begin. He is a curious and inexplicable creation never before seen by the noxious collection of pixies, ogres and trolls. Resembling something of an imp, the grumpy gargoyles adopt him as one of their own. Displaced and unexplained, Imp (aka Sam) learns more and more about his new world with each passing minute, however not the answer to his existence; why he looks like a human but behaves like a monster.
From atop his cathedral spire home, Sam adapts to gargoyle ways, meets Daniel, an ethereal angel and integrates himself into the world of humans during his quests for chocolate (for the greedy gargoyles). It's in May's chocolate shop that Sam encounters a pair of humans who set the next chapter of his story in mind-swirling motion.
If monsters are breathed into being through a human's last sigh and their vileness is proportionate to the depth of a the sigher's regret, what then happens when that sigh is 'contaminated' with a baby's first laugh? Sam is about to find out.
Throw Thunderguts, the evil ogre king with malicious plans for Sam into mix and all manner of other monstrosities bent on hunting him down (and possibly eating him) and you have a tale throbbing with thrills, spills and some very badly broken gargoyles.
The Monster Who Wasn't is an exhilarating and surprisingly tender rollercoaster ride through the foulest cesspools of monsterdom all the way back to the stars and beyond. T C Shelley's poetic prose transports readers to imaginative extremes in completely plausible ways. My views on gargoyles who infest ancient buildings with abhorrent demeanors and dispositions for example has been soundly challenged; so much so, I wish I could scale sheer walls as easily as they.
And although the action is pulse-racingly palpable and the language deliciously evocative, there is plenty of purpose layered into this story. Monsters move in packs; family unity is exemplified through a pack's loyalty to one another no matter what they look or sound like. Shelley proves (monster) blood is thicker than slimy water and means even more when heart and soul flavour the soup of one's character. We are persuaded that not all that appears bad is rotten; it is the core of a thing that matters most, even if this is not immediately noticeable. Conversely, all that sparkles (except for babies) is not necessarily good; beware of appearances and mollifying words, of hearing only that which you want to hear.
There is so much more to take away from this novel but ultimately its success is due to its tangible magic and ability to entertain all the way to the end. Full marks for this fantasy tale and extra merit for allowing monsters to matter because I think it is possible to love a monster. I certainly loved this one.
Title: The Monster Who Wasn’t
Author: T C Shelley
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, $14.99
Publication Date: August 2019
For ages: 9+
Type: Middle Grade Fiction