Monday, July 18, 2022

Review: Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah


by Tanvi Berwah
Sourcebooks Fire
YA Fantasy
325 pages


Sixteen-year-old Koral and her older brother Emrik risk their lives each day to capture the monstrous maristags that live in the black seas around their island. They have to, or else their family will starve.

In an oceanic world swarming with vicious beasts, the Landers―the ruling elite, have indentured Koral's family to provide the maristags for the Glory Race, a deadly chariot tournament reserved for the upper class. The winning contender receives gold and glory. The others―if they're lucky―survive.

When the last maristag of the year escapes and Koral has no new maristag to sell, her family's financial situation takes a turn for the worse and they can't afford medicine for her chronically ill little sister. Koral's only choice is to do what no one in the world has ever dared: cheat her way into the Glory Race.

But every step of the way is unpredictable as Koral races against contenders―including her ex-boyfriend―who have trained for this their whole lives and who have no intention of letting a low-caste girl steal their glory. When a rebellion rises and rogues attack Koral to try and force her to drop out, she must choose―her life or her sister's―before the whole island burns.

She grew up battling the monsters that live in the black seas, but it couldn't prepare her to face the cunning cruelty of the ruling elite.

Perfect for fans of The Hunger Games and These Violent Delights, this South Asian-inspired fantasy is a gripping debut about the power of the elite, the price of glory, and one girl's chance to change it all.



Strict social hierarchy mixes with sea monsters, intrigue, action, brutality, and determination to great tons of plot and a large variety of characters.

Koral has been born into a family of Hunters, whose job it is to capture and breed the fearful monsters of their seas, the maristags. It's a job, which always draws blood and luck is the only thing separating the Hunters from death, but the creatures are only there for a short time period, and if a male and female aren't available, the family must live off one month of salary and starve the rest of the year. This year, that can't happen since Koral's younger sister is sick and needs medicine to survive. When the hunt fails, Koral refuses to bow to fate and is determined to save her family by entering a deadly race. The prize money would mean financial relief, but her entrance means stepping up against members of the class above her family's...and they are more dangerous than the monsters.

This one is sold as a type of Hunger Games meets These Violent Delights. and while I wouldn't completely agree with the second of these, the first is hard not to see. The class differences are clear-cut and brutal, which made it intriguing as Koral's family isn't allowed to be anything but what they are. The attitude between the classes rings clear, and the prejudice slams hard. As the higher level gets involved, the nods at Hunger Games is strong. Even the romance and competition settles in clearly along these lines. It did make it a bit cliche, but that's not a bad thing, since it leaves the reader sure of where this novel sits.  Plus, the other aspects are original enough to make it feel too close, too. Although I didn't get as much of the South-Asian feel that I was hoping for.

To say that there are a few plot strings, is an understatement. The author creates a rich weave of sub-plots, which cross and spread to make sure there isn't a boring moment and little is easy to predict. Along with this wide spread comes a large cast of characters, who each hold their own agendas, personalities, and goals. There's tons to follow and even more surprises as everything twists and turns. It makes for a rich and exciting read, especially when the well-done action scenes are thrown in. Deceit and danger go hand-in-hand, giving Koral much more to deal with than just getting the money for her sister's medicine. 

All of this takes place in a complex and original world, where monsters, the sea, and much more are at play. The atmosphere portrays a dark and dirty reality, where survival is harsh and hatred runs high. Even Koral's own family has more than a slightly shadowed side. The monsters are well-described and hold the beautiful deadliness they need. The world, however, isn't given the same attention and is a bit are the characters. There's just too much, and it suffers, never gaining the complete attention it needs to really grab hold. The many plot strings also lose their thread because of this. While promising, many things are skid over too quickly and lose their impact. 

These pages hold the promise and beginnings of an amazing tale, so much so that it is fun to read...but it simply could have been more. And the ending...well, that slaps hard and leaves me hoping that there's another book to come. 

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