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Today’s Women in SF&F Month guest is SFF author Tanvi Berwah! Her short fiction includes the Pushcart Prize–nominated story “Red Velvet Cupcake”; “River Stones,” which was on the FON South Asia Short Story Award shortlist; and “Escape,” a selection for Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading and Writing YA, which highlighted work by new voices. Monsters Born and Made, her South Asian–inspired YA fantasy debut novel “about the power of the elite, the price of glory, and one girl’s chance to change it all,” features sea monsters and a dangerous chariot race—and will be published on September 6!

Cover of Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah

Cover Designer: Natalie C. Sousa
Cover Artist: Sasha Vinogradova


“[Adults] are afraid of dragons because they are afraid of freedom.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

A deep, solid thump on the ground. Ripples of water in the cup. A building fear as the T-Rex steps into the paddock. And then the release as it roars. As a child this scene in the movie Jurassic Park scared me, and I screamed in a full theater, which is what my family often reminds me of. But I don’t remember the fear. I remember the feeling of awe when this real-but-fantastical creature came to life on the screen.

It was the beginning of an ongoing love of fantasy and science fiction, especially one with fantasy creatures–dragons, merpeople, chimerae, flying horses, sea beasts. My copies of books like Dragon Rider and Eragon are so worn that their covers have almost faded. What was it about these creatures? I wasn’t sure, but I kept looking for more and more of such stories.

That’s how I found Sean Kendrick and Corr in The Scorpio Races and Jon Snow and Ghost in A Song of Ice and Fire. Two characters and their dangerous, terrifying monstrous sidekicks. Both Sean and Jon are strong-willed characters who are, depending on who you ask, a mess. They’re both only teens, orphaned, struggling with their places in the world, and the beings they truly trust, in a way, are not people but their beasts that are capable of eating said people. And these creatures, too, seem to trust their humans in a way that defies what they’re meant to be–horrors without thought.

I did not understand how deeply this narrative–and Sean and Jon–affected me until I found myself scribbling the idea of “WATER MONSTERS???” in my journal in 2018. I spent a lot of time scouring myths and folklore for monsters and discarding them. From the idea of monstrous water horses and wolves to krakens typically seen in pirate lore, I tried a lot of these creatures until I realized maybe I should try making up a whole new one. Which is how I ended up making a monster creature–a maristag–from scratch in my debut novel MONSTERS BORN AND MADE. Maristags are vicious and fanged and clawed. They have the body of a velociraptor and the head of a stag with multi-tined antlers that could rip anyone apart. They are angry and irritable and the kind of monsters that I loved growing up. And Stormgold the maristag is a perfect companion for my main character, Koral–another teen struggling for her place in a world that is bent on breaking her.

It’s a recognizable trope–a boy and his x–but one that endlessly fascinates me. Especially when it gives me those moments of exquisite tenderness that strip away the dichotomy of what it means to be human and animal. Sean’s bond with the water horse makes it come back to him, and Jon’s bond with his direwolf transcends the tangible world.

And although Sean and Jon don’t have ideal lives, the world is certainly worse for people who are not cishet men, so writing this trope with a girl gave a new dimension to this child’s dream of having a giant, terrifying beast be a friend to you, marking you as someone special.

Because why else do we read fantasy if not to continue the dreams that we used to have as a child–of being special and doing big, impossible things; of breaking dichotomies and finding feelings we are yet to name? And dreams of having a monster companion you could fly and cross the oceans on. A monster companion that will stand with you as you step outside your home and take on the whole wide world.

If only Icarus had a dragon instead of wax wings.

Photo of Tanvi Berwah Tanvi Berwah is a South Asian writer who grew up wanting to touch the stars and reach back in time. MONSTERS BORN AND MADE, her debut YA novel, is forthcoming from Sourcebooks Fire. Her short story, Escape, is out now in Foreshadow anthology from Algonquin Young Readers. She graduated from the University of Delhi with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Literature of English, and always found ways to fit in The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones in her academic life. A history and space enthusiast, she would’ve loved to be an astronomer, had her lack of mathematical skills allowed it. Find her at tanviberwah.com.