Monday, June 14, 2021

MMGM: The Monster Who Wasn't, by T. C. Shelley

What an odd, sweet, surprisingly deep story! I picked up The Monster Who Wasn't on a random library browse, because that's a great title, with an appealing cover. The cover is not only a lovely piece of art, but it really captures the feel of the book: the boy-shaped imp with his gargoyle friends, perched on a church spire gazing down at the human world he wishes he could belong to. Wistful, whimsical and weird.

Shelley populates her world with a kaleidoscope of monsters and fairies (and an angel): everything in Irish mythology, plus some extra ogres and trolls, plus a few, like the gargoyles, she just made up. Her description of the monsters' underground world is vivid and disgusting: the monsters are definitely the bad guys in this one! The gargoyles rescue the unnamed imp who doesn't look like any other type of monster—because they feel sorry for him, and because his human shape means he can steal chocolate for them! 

The imp—who eventually gets named Sam, so I'll call him that—is delightful as he gains vocabulary and learns about the world. Then his questions start to get more existential: why do I exist? what am I supposed to be? where do I belong? The answers to those questions turn out to be complicated. Shelley has taken elements of the changeling story but given them her own unique spin, and Sam's encounter with the human family who were partially responsible for his creation (this isn't a spoiler: we know that at the beginning) gives the plot some intriguing and poignant twists.

I mentioned that the monsters are the bad guys, and there is some real peril with quite scary creatures. Sam's courage and loyalty are tested, and I was on the edge of my seat rooting for him all the way!

I loved the gargoyles, I loved the Kavanagh family; there's a lot of really great humour to balance out the scary bits. This book warmed the cockles of my heart! (I think that's an Irish saying, isn't it?)

Once again I'm joining the group at Always in the Middle to highlight Marvelous Middle-Grade books on Monday. Lots more great recommendations at Greg's blog.


  1. I love finding books and new authors at the library. This sounds like a great fantasy with all the magical creatures taken from Irish culture. And not many books in this genre balance the scary with humor. Thanks for sharing it this week.

  2. It's always fun to find surprising books that have not gotten a lot of notice. This one is already checked out according to my library's online catalog but i have it reserved. Thanks for featuring this find on MMGM.

  3. I like the focus on Irish mythology. This sounds like a fascinating read and I'm very curious about Sam's story. It has all the elements and mystique that readers like in a story. Thanks for sharing!

  4. This sounds like such a fun story, and I love that it also has a lot of depth! The protagonist sounds like an intriguing character. Thanks so much for the great review!

  5. Ooh! This sounds so good. I love the Irish folklore aspect, and the title and cover are so intriguing. The cover reminded me of Sweep by Jonathan Auxlier.
    I'll be looking for this one!

  6. What a fun find. I don't read much fantasy, but you make this sound very tempting. I love that the gargoyles see Sam as someone who can steal chocolate for them. I get that!! Thanks for a great review.

  7. I would be drawn to this cover too! It sounds like this book has a lot of layers with questioning identity and existence but st the same time is a lot of fun! Thanks for featuring this!