Review: Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah

Review by Eliza

Koral hasn’t had the easiest life, and she knows that her failure at this year’s hunt means her family will starve for the next year. The maristags her family hunts and sells only come to shore annually, and the season’s passed. Koral made a split-second decision to save her brother’s life and let the maristag go, and that choice weighs on her. With an injured brother, a younger sister who’s ill, and aging parents, Koral feels responsible to solve their problems. She conspires with her best friend to enter the Glory Race to win the money her family needs to survive, but other forces are rising, and nobody wants a poor Renter in the race, even if they are a Hunter, and are willing to kill to keep Koral from winning.

Title: Monsters Born and Made | Publisher: Sourcebooks | Pub Date: 2022-09-06 | Pages: 352 | ISBN13/ASIN: 978-1728247625 | Genre: Young Adult Fantasy/Monster Fiction| Language: English | Source: NetGalley | Unstarred Review

Monsters Born and Made Review

One thing Monsters Born and Made conveys clearly is a societal hierarchy. It’s apparently modeled on the caste system in Asia, but anyone who isn’t part of the rich elite will recognize the split in this world. The poor are exposed, vulnerable to the elements and the monsters. They aren’t given essential information that could prevent illnesses and enable them to thrive. This part of the world building was on point and there was never any doubt in my mind about the gulf between the haves and have-nots in this world.

Monsters Born and Made moves at a fast pace, which at times works for it and against it. This really depends on how much description you need to establish the world and the characters. While there are some long descriptions within, it was hard to visualize this world, and that was complicated by what seemed like conflicting information. At times, everything on the island seemed close together, but then we’re told the island has five capricorns defending it, and each capricorn has a tailfin that’s a hundred meters wide. 

That’s 328 feet each. Times five. And the capricorns are spread out, performing the task of keeping the ocean’s monsters where they belong.

And yet early on, Koral has a near miss when a capricorn goes running down the thoroughfare. Now, there’s a sense as she runs to the pharmacy for meds that her home isn’t exactly close by, but a thoroughfare is a path between places. And other descriptions of the island have her seeing her home from shops and buildings. There are also descriptions of winding alleys and narrow passages between homes and other buildings. But then there’s the giant structure where races occur, and it’s clear it’s massive. I mean, it fits a capricorn with ease and has space for 10 competitors to race with chariots pulled by monsters over courses that seem to be several miles long.

It’s fair to say the geography was confusing at times. The Landers, the rich people in this world, live underground, and that was a curious thought. It certainly seemed like there were massive underground installations, but at times the island’s surface seemed small (and easy to run across) and at other times it seemed massive (when referring to a capricorn running down the thoroughfare). 

Set the geography aside and just go with the story. The tale of a teenage girl fighting to provide for her family should be an easy one to get behind. However, Koral isn’t always the most likable character. A character doesn’t have to be likable to be interesting, but she wouldn’t listen to anyone. And her arrogance makes her hard to relate to at times. It also complicates relationships with others who have their own agendas. I do wish some of those agendas had been fleshed out more. Her brother felt like he showed up just to provide desired dialogue and give her some grief, but I never really understood his perspective or motives for his actions or inactions. Crane is a bit of a mess as well, floundering from one objective to another. Initially she helps Koral enter the race, but later withdraws support and tells her to pull out. Everyone seems to be keeping secrets but they don’t fully flesh out in a way that gives them a compelling arc.

On that note, it also seemed that the Akayans had some agenda against the Landmaster, but that never really paid off, leaving me wondering about snippets overheard throughout. 

One of the big challenges with the book is that Koral’s 16, but we’re supposed to believe she had this intense relationship four years earlier with a Lander who she’s now competing against in the Glory Race. It’s hard to believe two 12 year olds were that hot and heavy, even using very special pet names for each other. 

This is a society that has no justice or order. The only people who get punished are poor people, while rich people that outright murder others walk away without consequences. There’s no due process, and it’s hard to believe anyone who’d grown up oppressed could truly believe in justice.

I wish we’d gotten more from the monsters and a real sense of how they impacted the Renters’ lives day to day. That’s part of the worldbuilding I felt could have been stronger.

I also took issue with the use of offensive language in this book. Crane utters an ableist slur early on, and it was completely unnecessary. It didn’t seem to be true to her character or relevant to the situation. She was mad at someone, but there were plenty of other words that could have been chosen. If it had been a consistent characterization for Crane throughout, I would have viewed it as a facet of her character, however unlikable. Since it was only used once and none of her other conduct or words suggest she judges people that way, it was a poor, unnecessary choice that almost prompted me to put the book down then.

By the time I got to the end, I wished I had.

Before I expand on that behind a spoiler tag, I want to note that this was a book that had a lot of potential. It was set up to be an exciting, action-packed story with monsters. The unnecessary inclusion of an ableist slur knocked it down half a star immediately. The ending, for me, brought it down further. I’m giving it 3 stars, and cautiously recommend it to readers who love anything with monsters and action. Lots of potential here, curious to see what the author delivers next.

This is a spoiler that gives away information about the ending:

Ultimately this isn’t a story about a girl overthrowing an unjust system where the poor are oppressed and the rich get richer. It’s a story about a girl who’s pride destroys her. The only character arc involves Koral realizing she was screwed from the start and could never win, even if she won. She destroys her family and there’s nothing in the ending that I found positive. I don’t need a happy ending. Some books work best with ambiguity, and that can be compelling. In this case, the ending took a book that was bordering on 4 stars and dropped my rating down because I didn’t feel it fit the tone of the book or provided satisfactory resolution to the story as presented. You may disagree, and that’s fine, but readers who want a satisfying ending may be very disappointed here. 

Monsters Born and Made (Book, 2022) –

Eliza Bio

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