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.

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Book: Light

"Light"

All eyes are on Perdido Beach. The barrier wall is now as clear as glass and life in the FAYZ is visible for the entire outside world to see. Life inside the dome remains a constant battle and the Darkness, away from watchful eyes, grows and grows…

The society that Sam and Astrid have struggled so hard to build is about to be shattered for good. Who will survive to see the light of day?

I liked the Aftermath chapters more than the ones leading up to it, to be quite honest. But overall, I’m just really happy that this series is finally done with, and that I can finally start forgetting about the characters.

Which is sad, really. I started this series with such high hopes. I liked the characters in Gone, more so because of their flaws. But when their flaws became too overpowering, and when there became too many characters, well, I sort of just gave up on it. Well, not really. Had I actually given up, I would have probably stopped reading by the third book.

Now, I don’t discount the fact that the book was engaging. It is. It’s just also really frustrating, because you feel like the characters are not growing at all. And the characters you’ve been told to care for, the ones who you have been following, are suddenly disposable. (Yes, I am talking about Connie Temple, and Dahra, and the Artful Roger. And yes, I also know that only one died from the three people I mentioned. That doesn’t mean they weren’t treated distastefully. Disrespectfully.)

I guess Michael Grant has done his job well, because he’s getting this kind of ire from me. But I didn’t want to feel ire. I wanted escape. I wanted a good story. I wanted characters to care for.

At the end of it all, the only character I cared about was Edilio. Maybe Lana. Maybe Diana. But Edilio is the only one who you can truly call a well-written character.

The problem really, and I’ve been saying this since the third book, is that there are way too many characters. You cannot root for a group of kids, unless you treat them as one unit. And I think the author didn’t want to do that, because that wouldn’t be true. Which is true. A group of kids as a unit would mean they are all on one side. When they aren’t. Which would be fine, if there weren’t two all-powerful almost-deities also fighting for control.

Had I been writing this series, there probably wouldn’t be six books. Just four. Book one was good as it is. Books two and three could have been combined, ending with the two sides of moofs joining forces to fight against the Darkness. Books four and five would’ve also joined together as the Darkness used the non-powered humans against the empowered ones. Ending with the birth of Gaia. The last book would start with the fight against Gaia, but would deal with the actual repercussions of what happened more. The Aftermath chapters would be longer, for sure.

We’ve seen a lot of useless characters take up pages and time when characters that needed development could have been given their due.

Connie Temple should have been a bigger character, the disintegration of her relationship with Sam deserved page space, and should not have been a throwaway line.

With the haphazard way the book was ended, I felt disrespected. As if, after spoon-feeding me information, the writer didn’t trust that I would be able to understand why so-and-so happened. That I wouldn’t be able to accept why this happened and that didn’t.

Damn right, I didn’t. Because I was not shown why. I was just told that it happened. That’s very lazy writing, if you ask me. And after sticking with this series for six books, I feel like I deserve better.

So as I close the last page of this book, I say good bye. And may I forget that I ever laid eyes on this series. That I ever started reading it.

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
GeekMatic!

Book: The Ocean at The End of the Lane

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane"

A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home and is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl and her mother and grandmother. As he sits by the pond behind the ramshackle old house, the unremembered past comes flooding back–a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is told with a rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out.

Memories. No one remembers the same things the exact same way. And when confronted with a past that happened decades ago… How do you know if you’re remembering events as they really happened? Or if you’re remembering them the way you want to remember them?

Neil Gaiman’s latest novel is a hard book to categorize. It’s easy to write it off as a fantasy novel–but what if it’s not?

Reading the synopsis, the first thing I assumed about our main character was that he underwent trauma. And right off the bat, death hounds his every turn. Take away the fantastical, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a very dark look at a childhood replete with traumatizing events. There’s the aforementioned death, emotional abuse, betrayal, and more.

Masking the darkness with fantasy, the novel feels like a grand adventure of good versus an ambivalent evil, a very elementary definition of evil. So basic is the definition that you know it can’t be that clear cut. And it’s not.

As we delve deeper into the psyche of our main character, and as the story further unravels, we see the gray in between the black and white. And we see the threads that hang loosely. Ended prematurely, not because the writer chooses to do so, but because the story calls for it. Some endings happen without seeming like an ending at all. And the actual ending is not an ending at all.

This is not a book for children to read alone, I think. This is a book best read with an adult to explain why certain things happen. In a way, this reminds me of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, except less explicit about its topic.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane does not tell you that it’s about death, about grief, or about a boy’s coming-of-age story. It gives you the puzzle pieces, that it has the ingredients I’ve mentioned in the third paragraph (not counting the synopsis.) The novel doesn’t solve the puzzle for you.

It can have a different meaning for everyone.

For me, the novel is about the normal evil. The evil we overlook. And how it affects the most impressionable child.

But no one reads books the exact same way. Who’s to say anyone’s reading is the right one? Who’s to say that there’s only one way of reading a book? It means one thing for me, but it could mean differently for you.

It certainly feels like the book means differently for the following:
Geek Exchange
With An Accent

And my favorite of the reviews I’ve read so far:
Lunatic or Genius?

What about you? What did you think about the book? What do you think the book is about? I’m looking forward to discuss this book with you guys.