Book Review: Lesser Known Monsters

“Being the chosen one isn’t always a good thing.”

Stories of heroes and monsters have been passed down since we were able to make fires to share stories around. They enthrall us in their grandeur, shock us with their intensity, terrorize us with the horror that lurks within the shadows. But ultimately, the heroic protagonist, through virtue of their strength and ingenuity, arises victorious.

This is not one of those stories.

Lesser Known Monsters by Rory Michaelson is a dark, queer fantasy debut that balances an intriguing plot, striking and diverse characters, and a whirlwind gay romance all on the backs of a protagonist that is endearingly… average.

Oscar Turndale knows what it’s like to be left behind. Abandoned by his parents at a young age, he immediately empathizes when a young girl is brought into his ward at the hospital with severe injuries and no parental figure in sight. When the girl points to a fellow colleague and not-quite-ex-boyfriend as the culprit, Oscar and his friends Zara and Marcus quickly find themselves in over their heads when their search turns to the supernatural.

The Good:

What really kept me on the edge of my seat was that I genuinely cared about the characters. The problem with a lot of plot-driven stories is that the characters are often underdeveloped, cardboard cutouts that the writer knows does well to serve a certain purpose. They’re tried and true caricatures of real people, created to fulfill a need. This is partially why a lot of authors rely on stereotypes—because they know how the audience will react to those stereotypes.

Michaelson’s characters were unique. They were vivid, nuanced, driven by their own wants and needs. They peeled themselves off the page and became real in my mind, not in spite of their uniqueness but because of it. They were diverse, and fully embraced that diversity.

The plot itself was intriguing. I loved the idea of an ‘average’ hero, one who makes mistakes with very real consequences and relies on the strength of their found family to get them through. The format was very well crafted, with monster profiles and interludes that all intertwined into a narrative that was intelligent while still relying on the inherent fantastical elements.

Should You Read It?:

As always, please consider the Trigger Warnings in the section below if you have any triggers that may be a concern when reading.

We talk a lot about Own Voices in the writing community—that is, books written by the minority that is represented within the book. This particular novel is considered Own Voices in regards to queer representation, and it shows. There’s just about every letter in LGBTQ represented, and not in passing either; not only are the identities present, but they thrive. You can often tell when a character is put in a story where their identity becomes the character, but Oscar, Zara and Marcus are all fully formed in their own right. If you’re looking for a supernatural or modern fantasy book with queer representation, Lesser Known Monsters would be a fantastic pick.

And at the end of the day, off all the books I’ve read for my book reviews, this has been one of the most fun. Even though there was tension, mystery, and heartbreak, it didn’t overwhelm and it wasn’t overdone. I realize that’s not the most measurable or explainable of merits, but I simply enjoyed reading it. 

Trigger Warnings: Genre Consistent Gore, Implied Sexual Situations

Author Interview: Rory Michaelson

There’s something about average that scares us. We try everything and anything to be considered above it, when most of us will spend our lives at average, just above, or just below.

It’s for this reason that I found the premise of Lesser Known Monsters so intriguing—a world where being the chosen one isn’t a good thing to begin with, and on top of that, the chosen one is as un-exciting as… well, myself.

It takes guts to eschew time-old traditions of heroes, anti-heroes and all form of the ‘above’ or ‘below’ to choose the middle ground as the place to set your sights for a character, so I was excited to talk to Rory Michaelson about their debut novel and about their future writing goals.

(If you haven’t yet, you can also read my full review of Lesser Known Monsters here.)

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m pretty socially awkward and introverted, some people might think I’m quiet, but most of the time I’m just not sure what I’m supposed to say. I grew up in a small village with a profound lack of diversity. I love taking that first sip of coffee of the day. I usually prefer salty snacks over sweet but will murder any cookie. I prefer silence to sound but will settle for music if quiet can’t be found. Sometimes I make things rhyme by accident. I’m scared of spiders, moths, and the slow march toward my inevitable and disappointing death. This is getting weird, let’s do another question.


Tell us about your novel.

Lesser Known Monsters is about Oscar, who is spectacularly average at best. He is dragged into the scaly underbelly of London, which he discovers is full of strange and mysterious monsters. It seems that Oscars life is in danger, and his fate is somehow linked to that of the world. Lucky for him, Oscars friends are braver and smarter than him, and at least one particularly handsome monster seems keen to help. Lesser Known Monsters is a contemporary own voices Queer Dark Fantasy, paranormal m/m romance, and above all the story of a strong and diverse found family coming together to save each other, and the world.


What is your favorite novel, and has it inspired how you write? How?

Has anyone ever just answered with one book? Can you imagine?!

Like many fantasy fans, I grew up all Jordan, Pullman, and Tolkien. It’s a funny thing, being captured by worlds but utterly failing to find any trace of your identity within them. It wasn’t until I read the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb that I began to find more relatable characters. That was when I became a voracious reader. Now I chew through tonnes of indie and mainstream books. They’re not all queer, but lots are (and why not, it’s about time!). VE Schwab (Shades of Magic), Fonda Lee (The Greenbone Saga), and Leigh Bardugo (The Six of Crows duology) are incredible authors with brilliant world building, diverse characters, and a sense of fun that has really shaped the kind of stories I want to both read and tell. From an indie perspective, Halo Scot’s debut (Edge of the Beach) really broke the mold and challenged so many conventions it was utterly inspiring. Dean Cole released a beautiful and haunting story this year that I loved (Chasing Ghosts), and Ash Knight managed to pull me into the romance world with her brilliant debut (Stay). Something all these authors have in common is that they focus on their characters first, reading them is really teaching me a lot about digging into my own characters.


What are some key takeaways you’re hoping readers get from your book?

Life is scary and overwhelming, and it’s okay to need help or let people know you are just doing your best to hold on when things are hard. Using your voice and saying what it is you want is sometimes the only power you have but can also be the most powerful thing to do. There’s a lot more things I want people to get out of it, mostly just having fun, but I won’t say anymore because if I retain a little mystery and anyone tells me they got some significant message I didn’t realize, I can nod sagely and pretend it was entirely intentional.


What is different about your novel?

Writing a main character who isn’t a hero feels refreshing. Oscar and his friends’ journey is messy and fantastical, but punctuated with familiar issues like doubt, and betrayal of trust. Although most of the characters are queer, that queerness isn’t an obstacle or conflict for them in the story. It may be an obstacle for others, but every character enters the story fully realized and embracing their identity. Writing a new adult story with queer characters sometimes really feels like young adult story, because there are generations of us a decade behind because the world isn’t geared toward us, and the literary world is no exception. So many of us grew up completely unrepresented in the stories that we loved, and I was starving for it. I really wanted to write for that very specific version of myself, and portray a time when we are really coming into our own and there’s that kind of flailing vulnerability, but with a supernatural edge.


You describe your main character, Oscar, as not a hero. What made you want to write a main character that was ‘average’?

I wanted to make Oscar profoundly human; that way, when I drop him into a world of terrible and powerful monsters it really gives me an opportunity to explore how it changes him. Having a main character who is vulnerable, anxious, cowardly, and indecisive really let me give him room to grow. It was also interesting to see how his presence impacted and changed ancient and powerful monsters, and maybe get them to show some vulnerability too. Lesser Known Monsters is about Oscar’s growth as a person as much as it is things that go bump in the night, and I’m hoping really that it’s that grounded journey that helps people invest and relate to the story.


What are your plans for future novels?

A first draft for a sequel to Lesser Known Monsters aggressively tore its way out of me at the beginning of summer. Literally just used my body to unravel itself in a few days. I’m still resting it now, considering where things would go from there. Other than that, I’m sitting on a story about steampunk sky pirates with superpowers that I’m dying to get out of my system.


What inspires you to write?

Writing is a superpower; it doesn’t matter how objectively good at it you are. It gives us the ability to time travel, and create worlds and people that feel real. We can unpick real events and fragment things that might have subconsciously confounded us for decades. For me, writing is a kind of therapy. Inside my head is a very loud place, and sometimes when I’m writing, all of the distractions and errant thoughts slide into place and point in the same direction, if only for a moment. Is that what euphoria is?


You describe your writing almost as a kind of therapy. This seems to be a common thread for many of the authors I’ve interviewed—and myself included. What kind of advice would you give to someone who’s struggling that may want to try writing as a way to process their emotions?

I find the creative process very nourishing and it’s not really something that I get access to anywhere else in my life. When you’re letting thoughts and ideas flow out of you I think it’s only natural to unearth darker things too. You can start to pull threads that unravel things that are difficult to handle, so it’s important to  have support systems in place. When we start writing we don’t want to share anything with anyone, but once those floodgates have been opened suddenly we feel strangely obliged to share everything. Writing with honesty can be visceral and cathartic, but you don’t need to share everything in its raw form — or even at all. You might want to break things up to use in your work, keep them private, or get rid of them altogether. Some words are written to be destroyed.


What do you enjoy about publishing, and what do you struggle with?

Writing a draft is probably my favourite thing. It’s raw and primal, and you can get that really lust drunk feeling for the story that is coming out of you. I struggle with pretty much everything else. Editing, particularly, does not come naturally to me due to issues with my attention span and focus. Since finishing Lesser Known Monsters, navigating promotions and distribution has also been tricky. I’ve been very fortunate to have an excellent support network, and fantastic editor (Charlie Knight).


I won’t ask where you get your ideas from (unless you want to answer that!) but you mention that the drafting process is your favorite part of writing. Do you plan out your story in advance (plotter) or figure things out as you go (discovery writer)?

I wish I could tell you where I got my ideas from because that might help me chase them. Strangely, Lesser Known Monsters started with the title just popping into my head, and I reverse engineered the story backward from there. When I first started writing, I over-planned. I had spreadsheets mapping every part of the story. The problem with that was that by the time I had planned so thoroughly I had told myself the story already, making it difficult for myself to find the motivation to actually write the draft. Now I tend to outline major points and discovery write in-between. Usually scenes play out in my head like movies whilst I’m doing mundane things. The most important stage for me is resting that first draft, as it gives time for me to season it with cool scenes and fun dialogue that I didn’t think of on the first pass, and get all the foreshadowing in place.


What has been your greatest struggle writing, and how would you inspire other writers to overcome it?

Myself. The expectations, and limitations I set for myself. The impact that I let my perception of other people’s opinions have over my pursuit of storytelling. I remember writing a little when I was a teenager, and I was quickly overwhelmed by those “who would ever read what you have to say?” feelings. It took me until I was in my thirties to learn to ignore my own bullshit and just let the stories inside me come out. I had to embrace that writing those stories for myself was still valid and important, and soon after that I realized that telling those stories for myself was precisely what made them special. Don’t ever let self-doubt be the reason you aren’t doing something you want to do.


How can we purchase your book

Lesser Known Monsters will be released on Halloween and is available from Amazon. For people living in the UK, if you are interested in a signed addition feel free to contact me directly via Twitter. Special pre-order promotions will be available, check for details on my website!