With monster hunting novels, sometimes we want a clear villain to attack or kill without mercy because it is the right thing to do. After all, we are fighting the good fight, making the world a better place, and paving a path to a brighter future. These are not the books to read if monster bad, people good is what you’re looking for. And in my humble opinion, readers have loved morally ambiguous advisories for centuries.
Morgana, Magic, and Morally Ambiguous Monsters
In the 14th century, an unnamed author writes the Middle English chivalric (knight on a horse) romance Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. Morgana sets out to destroy Guinevere by sending a magic knight to challenge the Queen’s husband. Unfortunately, Gawain offers to challenge the Knight in Arthur’s place, resulting in Gawain’s year-long struggle with mortality. You see, he had to chop off The Green Knight’s head. In exchange, The Green Knight could chop off Gawain’s head one year later. Gawain did not expect the Knight to get back up afterward. In the end, Morgana frees Gawain from his oath and allows him to live, explaining the plan wasn’t about him.
Morgana is a sympathetic foe with magic, political power, and restraint. Everyone can agree the involvement of Sir Gawain was incidental to Morgana’s larger plot to threaten Guinevere’s husband. Ultimately, she demonstrates those with magic are not one-note monstrous villains. Instead, Morgana challenges the humanity of King Arthur’s allies and provides a foil for heroes in the tale.
Mayhem in YA Monster Hunting Novels
Similarly, these modern female monster-hunters confront moral ambiguity in a good versus evil fight. Who is more monstrous, those without control over their actions, or those who choose to do harm? Where is the moral line when it comes to killing other beings? What should you do when you realize your understanding of the world is more fiction than truth? In a continuation of a Medieval struggle, our heroines tackle these ethical questions in these YA monster-hunting novels.
Here There Be Monsters
Skyhunter by Marie Lu
Content Warnings: Nonconsensual Medical Procedures, Past Trauma, Physical Abuse
This post-apocalyptic thriller understands how the power of a growing empire can clash with rebel societies. The Karensa Federation is responsible for invading and conquering most of the continent, unconcerned with who they kill on the path to unification. They also control Ghosts or difficult-to-kill infected humans. While the seaside nation of Mara remains free, it is largely due to their Strikers, an elite fighting force of combat pairs. Talin Kanami is an elite Striker with asylum status in Mara who became mute in her flight from the Federation. When her position as a Striker is threatened, she comes to learn there may be more to the Ghosts, the Federation, and Mara than she could have ever expected. Talin must set out on one road trip to save the free world.
All These Monsters by Amy Tintera
Content Warnings: Past Trauma, Domestic Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Abusive Relationships
Billionaire twentysomething Grayson St. John avenges his father by creating a teen international fight squad to kill bug-like monsters called Scarabs. Clara is ready to join the fight whilst escaping her abusive father. Her parents and most of the international community may think Grayson’s teen fighters are untrained, underprepared, and an insurance liability, but nothing will stop them from fighting the good fight. Clara’s charismatic team helps her finally find her place in the world, and she is not willing to let something like a high mortality rate stop her. But, when she learns the Scarabs don’t pose the greatest threat to her safety, she is forced to reassess the allies around her. I have been a longtime fan of Tintera’s YA catalog, but this book may have surpassed even my high expectations.
Slayer by Kiersten White
Content Warnings: Past Trauma, Parent Death
Twins Nina and Artemis are students of Watcher’s Academy following the Buffy series finale, training to support the next generation of Slayers like their parents before them. Nina is a medic, happy to sit out violent encounters and the most rigorous training. That is until she becomes the last Chosen One. Nina must now navigate being a Slayer in a Watcher’s world. Oh, and her Watcher in training, Leo, is also her longtime mysterious crush. As a healer, she approaches battle differently than her sister Artemis does, making for fight scenes that are riddled with ethical qualms. Nina must confront her education at Watcher’s Academy as she discovers demons are not as monstrous as she was led to believe.
Storm and Fury by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Content Warning: Attempted Sexual Assault
This pre-apocalyptic monster-hunting novel is packed with witty banter, nerve-wracking fight scenes, and moral ambiguity. As a human with the ability to see and talk to spirits, Trinity has always been different, even within the Warden’s walled compound for demon-killing gargoyle-shapeshifters. She learns to become battle-ready, skirting the boundaries set out for her to account for her humanity and Retinitis Pigmentosa, a degenerative disease affecting her eyesight. Now, a group of visiting Wardens is warning the compound that something is killing both demons and Wardens. Trinity’s safety bubble pops when demons successfully infiltrate the compound. She must work with Zane, one of the mysterious (and hot) visitors to escape. He knows her secret, but so do the demons, and they are willing to do just about anything to devour her. With threats from Wardens, demons, and other adversaries, they can only trust one another.
Legendborn by Tracey Deonn
Content Warnings: Past Trauma, Parent Death, Memory Manipulation, Racist Macro- and Microaggessions
Arthurian Legend meets Rootcraft in a monster-hunting novel dealing with history, death, and revenge. Bree Matthews doesn’t know what it will be like in a residential program for high schoolers at college, but anything is better than sitting at home with her emotionally-aware dad after her mother dies. Instead, she finds a secret society of Legendborn students who fight invisible monsters and manipulate magic. She knows the Legendborn have something to do with her mother’s death and is willing to go undercover to find out. She recruits Nick, a fellow student and Legendborn, to help her infiltrate a very insular, white, and privileged secret society. Turns out Bree may be there to fight demonic beings, but she is more worried about what the secret society will do to her if they discover her background.
Monster-Hunting Teens Find The Truth
In these monster-hunting novels, identifying the bad guy is harder than spotting horns, fangs, or tails. Heroines question their views of history, government, and society as they continue to move forward. Sometimes we all need to reject comfortable lies and accept hard-won truth. Like Gawain, our protagonists have to understand the larger picture to know what their role in the story is. At the end of the day, our teen monster-hunters discover their adversaries, protect the innocent, and get the job done.