Book: Voices in the Theater

"Voices in the Theater"

Ever since her grandmother died, Samantha Davidson has been carrying a secret: She can hear voices–other people’s thoughts, some from the living, some from the dead.

Plucked from her roots and transported to another country, estranged from her family and friends, Sam joins a pioneering club in her new school that investigates paranormal activities.

As they examine the mystery behind a haunted theater inside the university, Sam starts to hear voices from those that are no longer earthbound.

Will she heed their voices as they accuse her of a dark secret she has buried deep in the past? Or will she surrender to the light offered by newfound allies and a love that caught her by surprise?

Will the many voices drown out the one voice she has long suppressed? Will she listen?

If I’m to be objective, there is nothing wrong with A.S. Santos’s Voices in the Theater. The plot is good and well-paced, and although some decisions made by the characters make me want to tear my hair out, I understand their choices are organic and not pushed by the hand of the author. There is really nothing bad to be said about the book–

But I still didn’t like it.

Here’s the thing: Voices in the Theater is marketed to be a horror novel. From its back synopsis, to its book cover, to the first few chapters– The story is clearly set-up to be a horror novel that deals with ghosts and unresolved issues. And I was fully on board with that. What I didn’t like was the sudden turn for the religious.

I mean, I completely understand having religious characters. The setting is the Philippines, characters are bound to be non-practicing Christians at the very least. And you can’t really take out religion when you’re dealing with ghosts and the afterlife. They come hand in hand.

Still, the book presents the main character as religiously neutral. Our entry point into the supernatural is science-based. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. And I felt like the story, and the writer, forced the main character into a religion by the end of the book.

The thing is: I would totally understand the religious deus ex machina had there been more visual cues from the way the book was published or presented. Going back to what happens in the story, there’s really nothing there that explicitly says the book wasn’t going to go the religious note. And aside from the first few chapters that established the back story of main character Samantha, the rest of the book does establish the necessity of faith.

But the turn to the religion still threw me off.

It could just be my fault for expecting something else. For wanting something else. It’s just… I’m not the book’s target market. And I wish I knew this fact before I bought the book. Or, at the very least, I wish I had a warning before I delved into the book expecting a horror story. That could have spelled the difference in how I received the novel after finishing it.

Book: The Grinning Niño of Barang (The Dark Colony Clasificado)

"The Grinning Niño of Barang"

In the oppressive midnight of Martial Law, a band of knights investigate a religious artifact in the festive town of Barang, Bulacan…

…Where, beneath the banderitas, an ancient evil awaits.

For the past couple of years, I haven’t been keeping up with the local literary releases outside of the Romance Class publications–so I was pleasantly surprised to find this title at the last Komikon. To be honest, I kind of gave up that The Dark Colony was going to have a second book, since it’s been four years since the first one came out.

Now, I didn’t pick this book up because of the synopsis. I didn’t even know that it wasn’t a comic book until I started reading it. All I knew, going into it, is that it’s from Budjette Tan, creator of Trese. And I have to give major props to JB Tapia because I didn’t even realize that it wasn’t Tan writing until I got to the Afterword. (Although, in hind sight, I should have. Tapia also wrote the first Dark Colony book. Tan just helped create the world. But the world-building is similar to Trese‘s, and it is exemplary.)

That aside, I thought The Grinning Niño of Barang was a more solid story compared to the first installment of The Dark Colony. The plot is straightforward, the objectives are clear, and the villain is fully realized. I wish I can say the same thing for the heroes though.

Don’t get me wrong. The protagonists aren’t stereotypes nor are they cardboard cutouts, but we see more of their weaknesses that they don’t feel balanced. I wanted to root for them. Badly. But as I reached the midway point, I feel like I only want to root for them because I didn’t want the villain to win.

On other other books, I would rave about the humanity of these characters. How they weren’t just heroes who come in and save the world. But when you’re reading a book about the supernatural, about good versus evil, you do want a bit of goodness in your heroes. Just a little bit of goodness can go a long way. And save for the narrator, none of the characters feel like someone you would want to root for in a fight. They’re real, yes, but not the heroes we would want.

Which is unfortunate, because I feel like The Grinning Niño of Barang succeeds where the first Dark Colony story failed: it gave us a clear story, a clear origin, and a fight to champion. It made us want to know more about this world, and the war that the good guys are fighting. Unfortunately, it also failed where Mikey Recio failed–it still didn’t give us a likeable character whose story we would want to follow.

Book: Buffy, the Vampire Slayer – Season 9

"Buffy, the Vampire Slayer Season 9"

Has it been two years? I can’t believe it’s taking us this long to start and end seasons nowadays. Sure, the budget restrictions are gone now, but I fear that Buffy has lost something along with it: urgency.

I know Buffy has a niche market. I am very thankful to Dark Horse for even picking Buffy up as a continuing title. But after the blockbuster Season 8 that was just… too much, you’d have thought that Season 9 would have learned its lesson.

Well, it did. In the end. But, it took us two years to get there.

Buffy, the Vampire Slayer is not really about Buffy as it is about the relationships she has with her friends. And her family. When the team behind the Buffy comics started Season 9, they made a promise to bring Buffy back to its roots. And it did start out that way. Until it got out of control–again.

Suddenly Buffybot was back, and so was Spike’s bug ship, then zompires happened, we met Severin, Illyria came back–and although all of this were restrained and much more manageable than back in Season 8… it lacked the one thing that TV show had: its cast of lovable characters.

Willow was off having her own adventure. Xander and Dawn were mostly footnotes throughout the season before taking center stage near the end. And Spike was… Well, Spike was there and then wasn’t there and then was there again. And I felt Dark Horse broke its promise. Buffy didn’t go back to its roots. It just scaled down the problems of Season 8.

Of course, it wasn’t until we reached the last arc before I realized this. Xander going all-rogue felt out of character, not because I couldn’t imagine him doing what he did–it was because I felt unprepared for what he had done. We never really saw him much, so when he turned tables? It was a shock–and not the good kind.

Willow’s quest to restart magic ties in nicely to the end of the season–but because I was never able to find a copy of the miniseries here in the Philippines–I never really understood the importance of Willow’s journey. And without her side journey, the new seed felt like a deus ex machina.

Of the core team, it’s Buffy who stuck to what we were expecting. And stayed there. She didn’t grow, she didn’t evolve, she was just static. And I felt that, more than the spell that made her Stepford Wife, this was because we took out the people who would make her grow: her friends. Buffy became a lone wolf. A quippy lone wolf, but alone nonetheless.

Now that the season is over and we have a few months of rest before we begin Season 10, I hope Joss Whedon and whoever’s writing next would go back to what made Buffy really work: the relationships. I wouldn’t mind fall outs, I wouldn’t mind solo adventures–so long as they’re warranted. So long as we see it develop before our eyes. So long as they don’t come left of field.

Six years after the show has ended, I’m still a big fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. And although I believe that Seasons 8 and 9 are the weakest yet (and consider the fact that Season 1 was abysmal with its effects), I continue to hold on to the hope that the Buffy I love still exists. Somewhere.

Please don’t turn me off, Dark Horse.

Book: Spike, A Dark Place

"Spike: A Dark Place"

Spike hightails it for the dark side of the moon after parting ways with his on-again, off-again love interest, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Once a terrifying vampire, Spike has grown soft. It’s nothing that a vacation on a bug-filled spaceship headed for the moon can’t fix. That and some heavy drinking. But his plans for self-loathing are interrupted when he’s confronted by dangerous demons looking for a first-class ticket to… Sunnydale! Villains from Spike’s shady past appear, and a sultry succubus tempts Spike to move on from his aching heart.

I wanted to like it. I really did. After all, I did pay 900 pesos for it. But I just couldn’t. Is it because I’m not really a Spike fan? But I like the character. Maybe in smaller doses, but I like the character. He provides much needed lightness on Buffy, the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Especially during the latter parts of both series.

That said, I didn’t miss him much for most of Season 8. And since his reappearance, he really hasn’t done much to merit a strong reaction for or against him.

Which is probably why I’m not completely sold with the idea of Spike going off on an adventure of his own. Not that he did. He just stumbled upon it. Treated it lightly. Fought against demons. Got bamboozled by a woman. And then it’s back to status quo.

No, Spike: A Dark Place just doesn’t have actual character traction. Well, it does–for Sebastian, one of the bugs Spike picked up from the IDW Angel series. But for our main character? The character we’re supposed to root for? Nothing. Zip.

Oh, you can say he made a realization. An epiphany, if you will. But if we’re going to be completely honest, TV!Spike would’ve made said epiphany in three scenes. Heck, he had a full realization through just one song in the musical episode. So having him go through an adventure just to have him understand that he shouldn’t stay away from someone he cares for just because he doesn’t think he’s good for her? Yeah–no. It doesn’t make for good comics.

And the worst part of this all is, the series already starts with Spike already coming to this conclusion. With a fake beach. And then the misadventure happens.

I… I have no more words, to say frankly. Except, well, I shouldn’t have bought this title. I should have just stuck with the monthly issues of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer Season 9.

Book: Mikey Recio and the Secret of The Demon Dungeon

"Mikey Recio and the Secret of the Demon Dungeon"

Mikey had other plans for his Holy Week holiday. Driving for his grandfather was not part of it.

Nor did it involve running into a very unholy secret.

Why did I not see this during the last Komikon?

Oh, wait. I didn’t actually stay, did I? It works out anyway, since I was able to get the last copy from Fully Booked at the Block.

So, Mikey Recio and the Secret of the Demon Dungeon. Title’s a bit wordy, but it gets its job done. There’s something very proud about using the main character’s name in the title. It inspires confidence.

Confidence, that it turns out, the reader will need for the material.

The comic book is the first issue off a series, and it’s mainly an origin story. Actually, not even that. It’s the beginning for Mikey Recio, yes, but the mythos is already a fully developed thing. One would hope. It seems the people behind the title know where it’s going anyway; after all, they also included a short story of sorts that deal with the priests, the demons, and the–yes, mythos.

Having read the title, I must say I’m not completely impressed. As I said, it’s an origin story of sorts for Mikey Recio, but it’s really hard to care for a character you barely know. Comparing this to Trese and Zombinoy, two titles I’m very fond of, this one fails in setting up the stakes to keep readers reading.

Yes, we have a hero out for revenge. Yes, we have a formidable foe. But, no, we don’t have a cause we want to stand behind in yet. And, no, we don’t have a bigger mystery to solve. We just have one boy who’s taking up the mantle of a protector against evil because his grandfather and father were killed by the same demon. The demon who is, by issue’s end, also dead.

What are we supposed to stick around for again?

I have faith in Budjette Tan, so I trust that the follow-up will be better. That the story will go somewhere. I just hope that this trust, that this confidence, will pay off.

Now, let’s see what other people have to say about the book:
Jessica Rules the Universe
Culture Connoisseur sa Kanto