Never a hero by Vanessa Len

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Monsters do not always look ugly. In this amazing story the fragile relationship between humans and the monsters (who all look like humans) is revealed through a glimpse into a parallel timeline. Joan is a monster who is brought face to face with a human, Nick, who she was once romantically connected to in an alt-timeline, but then was required to ‘unmake’ to restore her own family. Their existence together in their current timeline is complicated because the gentle and gorgeous Nick has no memory of their previous connection, and Joan does not have a firm understanding of her own Monster family powers.  As they slowly reinvent a close connection they are also required to work together to confront and quash a formidable power originating from a monster family. Both of them have family griefs that complicate their relationship, and it is hard for them to totally trust one another, but a future in a different timeline with the potential for awful possibilities must be avoided, even if their own connection suffers. Can they work together, forging connections with other monsters with varied powers, to fight against monster manipulations of the timelines and save humanity in the process? 

I have stumbled into the Only a Monster series in Never a Hero, but would recommend finding book 1 before launching into Book 2! Despite that, Book 2, Never a Hero, stands alone in its own right and the premise of monsters vs humans in the shifting sands of time is explained with sufficient clarity to enable this book to be read on its own. The complexity of the fantasy time travel intricacies is so powerful in this story that it is an amazing journey backwards and forwards in time. The inter-relationships between competing monster families and the humans (who unwittingly power the time travel opportunities at the expense of portions of their life), are fraught with uncertainty and so there is automatic tension. But in addition to that, the amnesia of time travel has made a hero into a schoolboy, and removed attachments for Joan that were once very important to her. Was he ever a hero? Her confusion and uncertainty about her role and place in time helps us to feel the tensions of this unusual fantasy world. When the tensions ramp up, readers also feel the challenge of life in this unusual world where trust is a victim, and romantic connections can be lost so easily.  What I loved about this book was the deft way that Vanessa Len was able to address all complexities in the time travel genre and mesh this with a monster vs humanity drama, incorporating a complex romantic relationship that was not guaranteed, and do this in a way that was not trite or offensive to readers’ intelligence. Although describing the plot framework in thus book initially made me feel foolish, I have to say that it is far more intelligent than it might seem. Another feature that adds significantly to the traversing of time is the attention to detail in ‘costume’ and social history descriptions woven into the story - evidence of Len’s intricate crafting of her story.  This is a book for readers who revel in complex fantasies, and who enjoy the complications of time travel. It could be recommended to readers aged 16 - Adult, as long as the angst-laden, or on-again/off-again, potential for teenage romantic intimacy is not a deterrent.

Themes: Time travel, Monsters, Revenge, Metaphysical powers, Romance, Trust, Fantasy.

Carolyn Hull