I still remember the winter of '94, when our long suffering DM allowed me to borrow and read his white cover Monstrous Compendium. I remember how the paper was so delicate it threatened to tear as I turned the pages, the strange sweet smell of the print, the glossy full color pictures. Possibilities dripped from every page. It was hard getting AD&D books in those days, there was a limited window to obtain the books before the print run ended, and then you just had to hope you'd trip over a copy on a shopping trip to some larger, more important city, marked down and forgotten in a bargain bin beneath dusty old copies of TORG. To have one, to hold it... it felt like pure, raw potential for adventure.
That reverence, that glee, came rushing back as my Monstrous Manual arrived by post. The smell was different - that odd sweet smell was gone, replaced by the soft sour smell of paper. The page size seemed different too, at least from how I remember it. But it never felt this thick, this heavy, even in the clunky old binder... I was reminded of a regional phonebook as I hefted it and felt the weight.
Visually, the book is beautiful. Other reviews speak of the blacks not quite being black enough, but I can tell you that as of June 2019 that problem is resolved. Black lines are bold and strong, colors pop, text is easy to read and despite a few editing quirks (the Dracolich entry describes rules regarding a "host" before explaining exactly what a host is one section later, for example) I've yet to find a single typographical error. The entire thing feels like it was made by someone who loved the game and wanted it to shine. The leather style cover is beautiful, although strangely devoid of the details a person might expect (no Wizards logo, no blurb on the back).
In terms of cost, this may well represent the best value for money out of any 2nd edition AD&D book on this site. I checked other titles and similar costings apply to books literally half as big or smaller, and usually with black and white artwork. Purchasing an original, second-hand copy of a Monstrous Manual, or worse, an intact Monstrous Compendium, is too rich for my blood - the cost of this item, the cheap rates of shipping, make it available to even the most hard-done Dungeon Master.
If I had to nitpick about faults - which I do, it's a review - I would say firstly that I'm a little crestfallen this title isn't offered in Hardback. It's a strange decision not to do so, as the Players Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are both available in such a format. I certainly would have paid the extra $5 for it, and looking at the Discussion section, so would a lot of customers.
Secondly, there was a blank sheet included in the book in case an imaginative DM might invent a monster - a conceit that dates back to this book's early days as a three ring binder that a DM might add to as needed. The problem is that this page is no longer loose leaf, and is securely fastened to the binding. In order to photocopy it, I would have to bend the book so savagely it's spine would be broken... or take to my new book with a razor. I shall do neither, and so this page is wasted.
Finally, there were a series of Encounter Tables in the original Monstrous Compendium series, showing a series of simple dice rolls to determine what, if any, random monsters a party might enocunter whilst travelling through a desert, a forest or the open sea. A DM would simply look up the biome their players are travelling through, make some checks, look up the monster and roll for surprise. It seems strange to me, that the decision was made to keep the Monster Summoning tables in the back of the book as an Appendix but not those random encounter tables. Now, I fully acknowledge there is nothing stopping me from compiling my own tables using 60% Common monsters, 25% Uncommon, 10% Rare and 5% Very Rare as ratios, but many time-strapped DM's were helped out by having pre-prepared tables they could pick up as needed, and as DM's we buy resources like this to save us time.
Overall, though, I have no regrets purchasing this. I would go so far as to say this book is a must-have if you're planning to try out 2nd Edition AD&D.
Keep up the good work, Wizards of the Coast.