Book: Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat

"Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat"

A world that’s full of mystery and wonder. This is the world of Andong Agimat.

Yeah, the book synopsis doesn’t really give much away–but then again, Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a graphic novel. If it had a normal synopsis, it might have given the whole story away.

Yes, that’s a dig on how very short Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is (and most other local graphic novels).

The thing about Arnold Arre is that he is a master at creating these fascinating worlds based on what we know and on what is real, mixing the two to produce something that’s familiar yet new, shockingly present yet timeless. It was apparent in Mythology Class and in Trip to Tagaytay, but it’s on a completely different level here in Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat.

For something that was produced in 2006, this book still holds up really well. I credit this to the fact that Arnold Arre’s works are always grounded on human emotions. The new edition’s foreword has a lot to say about the author being unsatisfied, and how that underlines the story that the book is telling. But I would beg to differ. I think Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is all about fear: The fear of power. The fear of loss. The fear of excelling. The fear of being ordinary.

The fear of the inability to change.

Our main character, Ando, has a very checkered past; one that he’s trying to atone for, and feels that he will never leave behind. His past is what pushes him to be a hero–but it’s also what haunts his every moment, waking or otherwise.

Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a study on that fear–of never being more than what one has already become. Even after all the heroics, Ando never feels he is worthy to be a hero. So he doesn’t try to be one. That is, until he’s forced to.

This is where my complaint comes in. Arnold Arre creates this world with a very rich mythology: you have people yearning to be special, and being given the opportunity to do so at the risk of losing their innocence; you have an epic romance that spans lifetimes–and one that is more recent and more hurting; you have villains that have layers upon layers… And we get one rescue story out of this very rich world that the author created.

I don’t know if it’s the soap opera writer in me talking, but I felt cheated off the possible growth and development the characters could’ve had. I felt like the layers he gave the villains could have been explored more, while going into the backgrounds and drive of the protagonists at the same time.

I felt unsatisfied, to borrow a word from the book’s foreword. And it’s not something I want to feel after reading an exceptionally good book. Because Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat is a very good book–

It’s just also frustratingly short. It ends as quickly as it begins, leaving you wanting for more. And you will want more. So I guess that means I will only recommend this book to people who like getting hurt by their favorite books. Because this book will hurt you. And it will also quickly become a favorite. So if you’re a fan of being left wanting, then pick this book up. If you’re not… you might still want to pick the book up, and then join me in trying to find a way to get Arnold Arre to revisit this world again.

Book: Crystal Keepers (Five Kingdoms, Book 3)

"Crystal Keepers"

Cole Randolph still can’t believe the way his life has turned inside out. Stuck in a strange land far from his home, he has found his friend Dalton and has survived the first two kingdoms of the Outskirts, but none of that has prepared him for the magnetic highways and robotic bounty hunters of Zeropolis.

Ruled by Abram Trench, the one Grand Shaper who stayed loyal to the evil High King, the government of Zeropolis uses advanced technologies to keep tight control. Luckily, the resistance in Zeropolis is anchored by the Crystal Keepers–a group of young rebels with unique weapons.

On the run from the High King’s secret police, Cole and Dalton hope to find more of their lost friends and help Mira locate her sister Constance. But as their enemies ruthlessly dismantle the resistance, time is running out for Cole to uncover the secrets behind the Zeropolitan government and unravel the mystery of who helped the High King steal his daughters’ powers.

In Crystal Keepers, we finally get a story that feels original and not a retread of a previous adventure. As Cole and our other journeying protagonists enter the kingdom of Zeropolis, we’re treated to a world unlike we’ve seen in previous Brandon Mull novels–a technologically-advanced one.

The change of milieu really helps the storytelling feel fresh, as the checklist of things that need to happen author Mull employed in Rogue Knight doesn’t pop up here. The adventures are new, as are the dangers–which makes Crystal Keepers a page-turner. You don’t have an idea what’s going to happen next.

Now, I don’t know if this was a case of lowered expectations, but I really enjoyed reading the third installment off the Five Kingdoms series. Crystal Keepers feels action-packed without being overdone, and the pacing is slow enough to let the characters breathe and process what’s going on around them.

What I like best about this book is the fact that the writer is finally coloring in the characters that have, so far, only been mentioned and not seen. We’re starting to see how perception plays into the story, and how not everything is as black-and-white as previously thought. And yet, although a few chapters is given to the ongoing main arc, it doesn’t feel like a big break from the book’s own story line. It’s still pushing the book’s plot forward while pushing the bigger picture.

With the introduction of new characters, the ones we’ve been traveling with since the first book also come off a little better. To be honest, in Rogue Knight, our protagonists were starting to grate on my nerves. So the addition of new personalities and voices were very welcome, to water down my annoyance at the constant bickering between Cole and fellow traveler Jace.

There were still a few parts of the book that I wasn’t fond off–parts that felt obvious foreshadowing and device-planting. But on the whole, they didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the book. And I highly doubt that the intended readers of the series would be too discerning about obvious plot devices.

All that said, there is one twist that I’m still on the fence about.

In the first two books, there happened to be a great unexplainable being that’s causing mayhem in whatever kingdom they were in. Beings that turn out to be a personification of the princesses stolen powers. I was on the look out for the same device here, in the third book, but it didn’t appear until the last few chapters.

And, no, I don’t mean that it didn’t appear physically until the last few chapters. I mean that there was no sign of it at all until it needed to be the big villain.

Now, on the one hand, I really liked how Brandon Mull tried to change it up and not repeat what he did before. But, on the other hand, I’m not a fan of a third-act reveal of an enemy that needs to be defeated; one that the book needs to end big at that.

I guess I’ll just have to hope that this doesn’t happen again in the remaining two novels off the Five Kingdoms series.

I’m crossing my fingers.

Book: Sky Raiders (Five Kingdoms, Book 1)

"Sky Raiders"

Cole Randolph is just trying to have fun with his friends on Halloween. But their trip to a neighborhood haunted house turns out to be the start of a wild adventure when Cole watches his friends being whisked away through a mysterious passage.

Cole dives in after them, only to emerge somewhere that’s very clearly no longer Mesa, Arizona. He soon learns he’s come to a place called the Outskirts.

Made up of five kingdoms, the Outskirts lies between wakefulness and dreaming, reality and imagination, life and death. It’s an in-between place. Some people are born there. Some find their way there from our world, or from other worlds. The balance of power in the five kingdoms has been upset, and the magic there is becoming unstable. It’s up to Cole and an unusual girl he meets there names Mira to set things right, rescue his friends, and hopefully survive long enough to find his way back home…

The book was a slow burn for me. I didn’t really get into it until after our protagonist Cole gets into the titular Sky Raiders. But before you turn away from the book, it does happen fairly early on. You just have to read through a lot of exposition and establishing action first.

And there lies my problem with Sky Raiders. It establishes things that, while informing our main character’s goal, doesn’t really add anything to the entirety of the book. You could swap a different goal for Cole, a more pressing one maybe, and the action will unfold the same way.

What we get instead is knowledge that the story doesn’t end in this book. And while I enjoy reading stories that continue from book to book (and I already knew this when I picked up the first book of the Five Kingdoms series), I wish the whole thing was better executed.

A perfect example of this would be Brandon Mull’s own Beyonder series. The first book has its own start, quest, and end. As a reader, I was invested in that journey thoroughly because it had a clear ending. And although its ending was pretty much complete, I opted to join the second adventure that the author offered, because Mull didn’t disappoint in wrapping things up before presenting the second goal.

The same cannot be said for the first Five Kingdoms book. When I passed a certain percentage of the book and our main characters were still on the road, looking for the first boss battle to fight? I already knew the whole book was just a set up to something else. Something that we might still not get in the second book. And although I’ve already picked up Rogue Knight (because I am intrigued about this new world Mull has built), I am not happy about the fact that we didn’t get a satisfying conclusion in the first book.

Which brings me to a question: With the success of Harry Potter and other book series, are publishers becoming more lenient to stories that don’t end in one book? Is this a way of ensuring future sales? Because, I must say, I’m not a fan.

A book should be allowed to have its own ending, even if it’s just an ending for now. Because, as a reader, there’s nothing satisfying about being left hanging on a cliff for a year, before finding out if you’re continuing your journey or not.

Book: iZombie


Gwen Dylan’s got a dead-end job and a best friend who’s barely there. The dude she hangs out with is kind of a dog, her town’s social scene sucks the life right out of you, and it seems like any time she meets an eligible guy, his job gets in the way.

But Gwen’s not the girl she used to be.

She’s a zombie.

Her best friend Ellie is a ghost. Her buddy Scott is a were-terrier. Her town’s a feeding ground for a pack of beautiful but bitchy vampires. Her new crush belongs to a centuries-old secret society of monster-hunters. And her dead-end job? Digging graves by day…and digging them up for a snack at night.

See, Gwen’s got to eat at least one brain a month or she turns into a shambling monster straight out of a midnight movie. But every brain she eats contains a lifetime of memories–and her latest meal came with a side order of unsolved murder.

Now Gwen and her friends have to find the killer before they, too, fall victim to a fate worse than un-death…

It took a year, and a television adaptation, to get me to decide that I do want to read iZombie. And after another month of waiting (because I had to order through Amazon)… I devoured the whole series in one sitting.

iZombie, the graphic novel series, is exceptional. And I can’t believe I waited so long before I read it. It’s very different to the witty television series that Rob Thomas created off the material though. Because once you’ve read the books and watched the series? You would know that they are two completely separate beings. Two very amazing things. But we’re here to talk about the graphic novels. And I must say:

I absolutely hate the fact that there are no more stories about Gwen, Ellie, and Spot. The three are such fun characters that, from the get go, you know you’re going to enjoy hanging out with them–and that you’re going to root for them to survive the craziness the series immediately promises.

And iZombie really doesn’t hold back on the crazy.

From zombies who have lived for thousands of years, spirits who become trapped in the bodies of animals, vampires who have a no-kill policy, and a legendary hero that comes back to life–the series has them all. And the best part? You don’t even question them, because they’re part of the fabric that creators Chris Roberson and Michael Allred weaves beginning in their first issue.

But, I feel like getting into the iZombie bandwagon late worked out well for me as a reader because I was able to devour the story in one sitting. I don’t think I would have liked it as much had I been forced to wait for issue after issue–because the crazy that made it so fun to read, spread through time? It would have also infuriated me to no end.

With all that said though, what I really just want to say is: if you haven’t read the iZombie graphic novels yet–go find them. Read them. Enjoy them.

Book: Charlie Sparks, a Sorcerer’s Tale

"Charlie Sparks: A Sorcerer's Tale"

Charlie Sparks may seem like your typical teenage boy–except that he isn’t. As he discovers more about his past, his journey forward becomes filled with dangerous monsters and demons nightmares are made of. Will he make it through? Will his new identity help him save the day? Or will it put in danger the ones he loves the most?

It took me a few months to get through this book, and now that a couple of weeks have passed since I read it… I don’t actually recall much about what happens in it. Which doesn’t reflect well on the book.

My problem with Charlie Sparks is the same as the ones I had for Gilda Olvidado’s Rosallea. Our protagonist is perfect, and he can do no wrong. Even when he purposely goes against the rules, it still works out in his favor. And even when he has to face the challenges to prove his worth–nothing makes the reader’s heart pound.

Now, unlike with Rosallea, I kind of feel bad for not liking Charlie Sparks.

One, it doesn’t really do anything wrong. It just doesn’t do a lot right either. It paints by the numbers, and it tries its best to tell an engaging story. It’s just that, with the proliferation of western fantasy in both local and international young adult books, it’s kind of hard not to judge this book against everything that has already come out. Nothing feels original.

Two, none of the characters seem whole. Charlie’s a Mary Sue who can do no wrong. His best friend is a wimp who can’t do anything right–and yet unwittingly provides the answer to a big problem. And then there are the female characters who stay one note throughout: the two love interest who are mysterious at first, before devolving into stereotypical I-will-wait-for-you damsels who suddenly become kickass. And then there’s the mother figure who only wants to protect her son, and the crone-like guardian who provides the easy way out for everything. And none of them feel real.

And then, there’s number three: the subplot that only serves one purpose: to provide a twist. In the book, Charlie Sparks is a fan of a mysterious author–who buys an island to keep him secluded from prying eyes, and yet opens it for tourists at the most opportune time. A mysterious author who gives the protagonist a mysterious book you would think will be useful for his journey ahead–but only shows up again in the end. To do nothing. Except to surprise the readers with regards to the author’s identity.

I don’t want to discourage new writers from writing, or from making mistakes. Both steps are important for new writers to develop into good writers. But, for the love of all that is good, how hard is it for publishers to get editors who can take the potential of books like Charlie Sparks, mold it into something good, before it gets released?

Now that a new generation of Filipino readers have arisen, it’s time for the publishers to supply books that are, at the very least, sound in plot and characterization. I’m not even asking for original and unique stories anymore. Just make sure they make sense!

Or, in the case of Charlie Sparks, make sure it gets polished first before it gets published.