Book: The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo, Book 2)

"The Dark Prophecy"

Go West. Capture Apollo before he can find the next Oracle. If you cannot bring him to me alive, kill him.

Those were the orders my old enemy Nero gave to Meg McCaffrey. But why would an ancient Roman emperor zero in on me (as Lester) in Indianapolis? And where is Meg?

Meg, my demigod master, is a cantankerous street urchin. She betrayed me to Nero back at Camp Half-Blood. And while I’m mortal she can order me to do anything…even kill myself. Despite all this, if I have a chance of praying her away from her villainous stepfather, I have to try. But I’m new to this heroic quest business, and my father, Zeus, stripped me of my godly powers. Oh, the indignities and pain I have already suffered! With impossible time limits, life-threatening danger… Shouldn’t there be a reward at the end of each task? Not just more deadly quests?

I am highly enjoying Rick Riordan’s new Percy Jackson series… And there’s got to be a better way of calling The Trials of Apollo while referring to the Greek and Roman mythological universe Riordan’s created.

That aside– The things I liked in the first book remain true here. Apollo might be a whiny wanker, but he’s endearing because of hapless helplessness–while maintaining his arrogance for previously having godly powers. This time though, he’s more aware of his shortcomings which is an amazing development to witness. Especially since he has another quest to face–and this time, he knows he can’t just rely on others to do things for him.

Meg takes a back seat for the early part of the book, but when she returns, we see her develop too. Not enough that we feel short-changed about not bearing witness to her character growth, but enough to see that this is not the same character who left our hero in the first book.

It is clear that Riordan loves this world more than the other ones he created. Or, at least, knows more about what he’s going to do in this world. There is love in how his main characters are handled, even when there’s only a passing mention of them. And there is a clear progression of where the characters, old and new, are going.

And speaking of characters; I am loving the addition of Emmie and Josephine to the series. The two were former hunters of Artemis, and are now guardians of a way station where demigods can rest. They’re unlike previous adult characters in that they clearly know when they’re in need of help, and when they can take charge. They have a very nurturing way about them that’s never existed in any of the previously introduced adults; while, at the same time, you know they are women that you mustn’t cross.

I love them so much that I feel more concerned about their fates than any of the other characters.

I also like the introduction to another mythology. Hopefully one that doesn’t get spun off into its own series, but rather married into the one we already know. Because with all these mythologies, and all of them having end of the world scenarios, it is becoming more interesting to me to see how Riordan marries the different kinds of apocalypses, more than seeing how he’s going to wrap up each one separately.

Another thing I’m liking about this series is how Apollo serves us a new point of view. Riordan’s heroes all complain about having gods interfere in their lives. And now we see a god try to navigate quests after quests, while having to deal with consequences of their actions–whether in previous books, or in established mythologies.

There is so much to like about The Trials of Apollo. And I am both excited and apprehensive about the next book. One part of me wants to see what happens next immediately. But another part of me, the one that still remembers Magnus Chases’s conclusion, is scared that the next book in The Trials of Apollo is a dud.

I guess I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope for the best.

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Book: Si Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu’t Pitong Pusong

"Si Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu't Pitong Pusong"

Bago naglaho si Janus habang naglalaro ng TALA, nakita ni Manong Joey sa utak nito ang hinahanap nilang paraluman.

Sinundo ni Renzo si Mica sa Balanga para protektahan ito sa Angono at dahil may kaugnayan ito sa paralumang nakita ni Manong Joey kay Janus.

Samantala, nasa Kalibutan pa rin sina Manong Isyo para hanapin si Mira na malamang na nakuha ng mga mambabarang. Walang kaalam-alam ang lahat kung nasaan na si Janus hanggang sa makita ni Manong Joey na humihiwalay ang anino ni Renzo sa katawan nito at maaaring matagal na pala itong ginagamit ng Tiyanak!

Two years have passed since the second book off the Janus Silang series was released. Since then, the titular character has appeared in comics form, on stage, and was acquired by a television network to be turned into a soap opera. I don’t know what happens to Janus Silang in the future, but getting turned into a franchise seems to have worked in his favor. At least, novel-wise.

Janus Silang’s third book is the strongest offering from the series yet. Although I have qualms about author Edgar Samar’s decision to dive right into the action, I must say that the pacing in this installment is the most solid it’s been since the title first launched.

The characters all get proper development this time around–especially Mica. She who became almost an afterthought in the second book is given the right spotlight, and is used perfectly to balance the world of the fantastical with the normal. I also have to applaud Samar for Mica’s participation in this book, setting her arc up perfectly–and giving her a satisfying resolution. Well, a satisfying one for this book.

Plot-wise, Pitumpu’t Pitong Pusong has what it’s predecessors don’t: a clear structure of where the characters have come from, where they are going, and where they end up. Twists are used sparingly, making them more effective. And it is clear now that Samar knows where he is taking his story, whereas it seemed like he was just pulling things out of thin air before.

And most importantly, for me, the book doesn’t read like an educational book anymore. Old Tagalog words are still sprinkled throughout the narrative–but they feel more organically woven in, used by characters who understandably speak in a more archaic way. But in general, the words used by the novel are more colloquial. More relatable. Easier to read.

Honestly, when I picked up Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu’t Putong Pusong, it felt like a burden. I bought the book because I wanted to know how the story goes. After all, I do like the premise of the series. But after two books that weren’t as engrossing as I hoped it would be, I sort of lost hope that things would get better with the new book.

I’m glad that I was wrong.

Janus Silang at ang Pitumpu’t Pitong Pusong is the book that I always wanted the series to be. And I am praying that the next installments would keep this quality.

Book: The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, Book 3)

"The Ship of the Dead"

Magnus Chase, son of Frey, the god of summer and health, isn’t naturally inclined toward being a brave warrior. Still, with the help of his motley group of friends, he has achieved deeds he never would have thought possible. Now he faces his most dangerous trial yet.

Loki is free from his chains. He’s readying Naglfar, the Ship of the Dead, along with a crew of giants and zombies, to sail against the Norse gods and begin the final battle of Ragnarok. It’s up to Magnus and his friends to stop him, but to do so they will have to sail across the oceans of Midgard, Jotunheim, and Niflheim in a desperate race to reach Naglfar before it’s ready to sail. Along the way, they will face angry sea gods, hostile giants, and an evil fire-breathing dragon. But Magnus’s biggest challenge will be facing his own inner demons. Does he have what it takes to outwit the wily trickster god?

If you’re a fan of Rick Riordan books, which I sort of am, then this book should be right up your alley. Just… don’t expect too much from it. Touted as the third book in the author’s Norse-mythology series, The Ship of the Dead is also the finale of the Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard trilogy. Except–

The Ship of the Dead doesn’t read like a finale. Well, the last chapters do, but prior to the obvious send-off to these new set of characters, the whole book felt like a third installment that would lead to a finale. And the whole time I was reading, I never entertained the notion that this is where the story would end. Because the stakes are the same. The adventures, albeit fun to read, are the same. The challenges and the “inner demons” are the same. There was no point in the book where I felt like the characters were seriously endangered. There was no one instance when I felt that there was a threat.

Before I continue, I will say that there will be spoilers ahead.

The problem with the third installment of Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard is that the villains are a dud. Loki, after being built up as a formidable enemy in the first two books, doesn’t really do anything in this one. He’s relegated to dreams and visions that don’t really do anything, because our protagonists aren’t endangered. The characters, although harmed throughout their adventures, always have Magnus Chase to heal them when things get too bad. The whole thing reads like a bedtime story for a kid who only wants happy endings.

Thing is, we know Rick Riordan can do better. The first Percy Jackson series effectively evoked our fears in the final two books. Although we knew the good guys would win, we didn’t know who we could lose. And we felt like we could really lose someone. The second Percy Jackson series did the same, although with a dud book along the way. Even The Kane Chronicles had a sense of foreboding. And this is why I feel the closer to the Magnus Chase is a disappointment. Yes there is closure… but there’s not much else in it.

That said, I applaud Rick Riordan for the subtle romance between our hero and Alex Fierro. It’s there. Simmering. But never in-your-face about it. He’s never preachy about Alex’s gender-fluidity, and it’s treated like it’s normal. As just another fact, alongside the green hair and the penchant for pink.

In this book, we also learn more about Magnus’s after-life friends. And this is where most of my disappointment stems from. I feel like we could have had another book, just so we could fully explore the background of the other characters. Who they are, and what they are to each other. Especially with how Magnus solves the threat.

I couldn’t help but think, after putting the book down, that The Ship of the Dead wasn’t planned to be an ending, but that Riordan ran out of steam and decided to just have it serve as the finale. And it didn’t help that I have just recently seen Thor: Ragnarok which confronted the Norse apocalypse. The Ship of the Dead felt like a cop out in comparison.

Book: The Hidden Oracle (The Trials of Apollo, Book 1)

"The Hidden Oracle"

My father’s voice still rings in my ears. Can you believe Zeus blamed me for the gods’ battle with Gaea? Just because the earth goddess duped one of my progeny–Octavian–into plunging the Greek and Roman demigods into a civil war that nearly destroyed human civilization. I ask you, how was that my fault?

Now I’m cast out of Olympus in the form of a sixteen-year-old mortal boy, acne and all! Sadly, I’ve been punished this way before. I know I will face many trials and hardships, I can only hope that if I suffer through them and prove myself worthy, Father will forgive me and allow me to become a god again.

But this time my situation seems much more dangerous. One of my ancient adversaries knows I am here and is having me followed. The Oracle of Delphi remains dark, unable to issue prophecies. Most embarrassing of all, I am bound to serve a demigod street urchin who defends herself by throwing rotten fruit.

Zeus could not possibly expect me to fix the Oracle problem by myself. Not in my present weak condition. It’s time for me to drop in on Camp Half-Blood, where I might find some talented fodder…er, I mean heroes to help0. No doubt they will welcome me as a celebrity! They will bring me holy offerings, like peeled grapes, Oreos, and–oh, gods–perhaps even bacon!

Mmm. Yes. If I survive this, I really must write an ode to the power of bacon…

I feel like half this blog post has already been taken over by the book’s back synopsis alone. And it’s not like the synopsis does a good job at selling the book. It doesn’t. In fact, I’m glad that this is actually the first time I’m reading this horrible synopsis–while typing it up. Because I very much would not have picked the book up based on the synopsis alone.

Ah, who am I kidding. This is Rick Riordan. And save for the really horrible Mark of Athena, I’ve enjoyed all of his books. Yes, even the ones from The Kane Chronicles. So even with this weird synopsis, I would have picked up the first book off The Trials of Apollo. I just wanted to say that the synopsis is horrible enough times that someone takes notice. And writes a better synopsis for the next book.

Because it really does a great disservice to the The Hidden Oracle, which I feel, is setting out to be a better series than both Percy Jackson and the Olympians, as well as Heroes of Olympus.

Of course, you first have to get over the fact that Apollo as a main character can get tiring pretty fast. And because Rick Riordan has been doing almost the same shtick for more than ten books, you can already see most of the twists coming a chapter away. But what this book has that the others don’t is interesting characters:

Apollo, as annoying as he is, is Riordan’s most flawed character ever–while still remaining a likeable goof. Meg, the aforementioned demigod street urchin, is a strong female character that has interesting non-romantic issues to deal with. And from the get go, we know that there will be no romantic subplot between the two that could wreak another Mark of Athena upon us.

And I love the fact that the book is told completely through Apollo’s perspective. There’s no jumping around between characters that makes cliffhangers annoying instead of page-turning. There is no split focus between characters that stops the main story moving forward.

The storytelling is linear, which I’m very thankful for, as there are no eleventh-hour twists that gets explained away by a new flashback detailing why said twist is supposed to work. And then, when we do get our twist (or rather, lack of twist?), it actually shakes up the relationship dynamics of characters that make readers look forward to the sequel. Because the new story potential doesn’t stem from the twist, but from how that twist affects our main character.

As I put the book down, I could tell that I was already looking forward to what the next book will bring. Especially with the revelations Riordan shares about the loose ends from his previous two demigod series. Now let’s just hope he doesn’t mess it up.

Book: Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang

"Si Janus SIlang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang"

Apat na buwan na si Janus sa mansiyon nina Manong Joey sa Angono, pero naroon pa rin ang sakit ng dilang-karayom ng manananggal sa puso niya dahil sa pagkawala ng mga mahal sa buhay at sapilitang paglayo kay Mica.

Sumula ng Christmas break nang mawasak ang proteksiyon ng mansiyon laban sa Tiyanak at sa mga kampon nito. Matinding barang ba ito? Nawawala rin si Mira, ang isa sa kambal na baganing kasing-edad ni Janus at inampon din nina Manong Joey. Ipinagtapat naman ni Renzo kay Janus ang matagal na palang sinusundan ni Manong Isyo: bumalik sa mapa ng utak ng dalawang manong ang brain imprint ng Papa ni Janus at maaaring buhay pa pala ito!

If you don’t understand the Tagalog synopsis, it goes like this: time has passed since the events of the first book. Janus has already spent four months in Manong Joey’s mansion in Angono, but he can still feel the needle-tongue of a manananggal that was left in his heart by the loss of his loved ones and by him abandoning Mica. During the Christmas break, the protection around the mansion has been breached–and no one can explain why. Mira, one-half of the twins who are waiting for their powers to develop, has disappeared. And Janus finds out from Renzo that their elders are investigating the possibility that Janus’s father is still alive.

And now, the verdict:

Book 2 of Janus Silang is still very bottom-heavy. It took me three days to get through the first half of the book, and less than an hour to finish the last third. But unlike the first book where the bottom-heaviness could be fixed by a rearrangement of events that doesn’t change the plot structure at all, I don’t really know how to improve the second book.

Si Janus Silang at ang Labanang Manananggal-Mambabarang has a very solid plot structure. It makes sense why certain things happen when they happen. And although I disagree with some of the actions made by the main character, I can’t fault the reasons behind why Janus does what he does. My problem with the book actually stems from the digressions.

Teacher Cris, of the Teacher’s Pet blog, commented on my post for the first book about how the attention to detail contributes to the twist in the plot. And I agree to a certain extent. But I don’t think the same can be said for the digressions in this book.

Yes, certain events need to be set up. Yes, we need to learn more about the histories and background of familiar creatures because they are being remade into something different from what they were. But the digressions feel disjointed for me. Mostly because we are presented with pressing dangers, our characters are rightly alarmed, and yet none of them are acting like there is an emergency. They’re all so relaxed. That is, until the last third of the book, when the action finally picks up–and the exposition no longer feels like digressions, and flow organically from what is happening in the present.

I’m on the fence about this book. Unlike the first book that’s teeming with potential, Book 2 feels like a retread on a formula that was already problematic the first time. Which is a shame. Because, more than a year later, the first Janus Silang book is still the best local young adult novel I’ve read. And I was really looking forward to this one being better than the first book because we need less set-up than before. And yet…

And yet I will still pick up the third book when it comes out. Because I have to admit that I have higher expectations for Janus Silang than I do for other local published works. Because there is potential here. Because, although I am not completely in love with the second book, I can still say with confidence that this is better and more original than a lot of imported young adult series that I’ve been reading. And because I look up to the author in real life, and I believe he can churn out something better than this.

So I continue to look forward to the next book. And I’m crossing my fingers that the next book will, indeed, be better than the first two books in the Janus Silang series.

Book: High Tide at Midnight (Trese 6)

"High Tide at Midnight (Trese 6)"

The unceasing rain muffles the screams of the victims being pulled down, down into the murky flood waterse.

In the places too high to be reached by teh flood, the party continues for the priviledged, who indulge in a new designer drug which grants them the supernatural abilities of enkanto and aswang.

These are the murders and mysteries Alexandra Trese needs to solve as the tide continues to rise at the stroke of midnight.

I subscribe to the belief that rain washes away the past and affords us new beginnings. And what better way to start a new beginning here at the blog than with a book that revolves around rainfall–and the things that come with it? Trese‘s sixth installment: High Tide at Midnight.

In this collection, the Trese siblings and their allies face off against the growing threat of evolved monsters–and paves the way for an actual big bad that sets out to make the world of Trese more complicated. And engrossing.

Now, I am not blind to the dissatisfaction some readers are feeling from the recent releases of Trese. Some readers feel like the novelty has worn off, and that the stories are too fast-paced. Rushed, even. Personally, I like the no-time-to-breathe storytelling that Trese employs. But I do see why there might be unrest with other readers.

Because as fast-paced as Trese is, there is still that unshakable feeling of statis. That no matter how dire things become, the status quo will remain the same. One, because the main characters are too invincible. And two, because you do not actually care about said main characters. Especially the titular one.

Alexandra Trese can die and you’ll only feel sad because it means Trese is probably done as a series.

Trese stories are fun because of how writer Budjette Tan and artist KaJO Baldisimo bring to life old mythological creatures in our modern world. But if the novelty is no longer enough for a reader, then I think the series has nothing else to offer.

Yes, I really mean that.

Trese, six installments in, is about the adventure and the action. It is not about the characters. If it were, our heroine Alexandra Trese wouldn’t be as one-note as she is. There would be more peripheral characters whose lives would actually be changed by the supernatural goings-on. And you will actually fear for the lives of said characters. Because we do not have these, any development that happens will be plot-related, and everything continues to feel… unmoving. Static. But fun. And thrilling. And still.

The sixth book is no exception. I love the introduction of the new one-note characters: the gruff guardian, the chaotic-good husband-and-wife team, the metal smith, and even Manang Muning. It all feels exciting. Especially when they fight with the flurry of sea monsters who want to take over the mortal world. But at the end of the book, there was no lesson to be learned. There was no emotion to be felt. Just exhilaration. And the desire to see what happens next, not because I cared, but because I wanted to satisfy my curiosity. How will the creators end the story? How else are they going to twist the world of Filipino mythology?

But I could care less if Trese 7 completely revolves around Maliksi and the Kambal. Or Hank defending the Diabolical while the Trese siblings take care of the action off-frame. I will still feel the adrenaline regardless of who is in the pages. The Trese siblings don’t make the Trese books. The modernized mythologies do. And while I continue to love it, I know and accept that I will also lose my interest in the series eventually.

Yes, I worry that if the creators don’t push the story beyond the plot twists and the big bad, then there will come a time when I will stop feeling excited for the new releases. And like with some of my friends, Trese will become just one of the comics I used to read.

Book: The Blood of Olympus

"The Blood of Olympus"

Nico had warned them. Going through the House of Hades would stir the demigods’ worst memories. Their ghosts would become restless. Nico may actually become a ghost if he has to shadow-travel with Reyna and Coach Hedge one more time. But that might be better than the alternative: allowing someone else to die, as Hades foretold.

Jason’s ghost is his mother, who abandoned him when he was little. He may not know how he is going to prove himself as a leader, but he does know that he will not break promises like she did. He will complete his line of the prophecy: To storm or fire the world must fall.

Reyna fears the ghosts of her ancestors, who radiate anger. But she can’t allow them to distract her from getting the Athena Parthenos to Camp Half-Blood before war breaks out between the Romans and Greeks. Will she have enough strength to succeed, especially with a deadly hunter on her trail?

Leo fears that his plan won’t work, that his friends might interfere. But there is no other way. All of them know that one of the Seven has to die in order to defeat Gaea, the Earth Mother.

Piper must learn to give herself over to fear. Only then will she be able to do her part at the end: utter a single word.

Heroes, gods, and monsters all have a role to play in the climactic fulfillment of the prophecy in The Blood of Olympus, the electrifying finale of the best-selling Heroes of Olympus series.

I had no expectations coming in to this last book off the Heroes of Olympus series. Mostly because I didn’t like the book that preceded it. House of Hades felt cluttered and all over the place. And honestly? I feared the same would happen in the last book with so many loose ends needed to be tied up still.

Fortunately, my fears were unfounded. Rick Riordan manages to give proper spotlight to all the characters without short-changing anyone. Yes, I would have preferred more time for Percy, Annabeth, and especially Grover, but that’s mostly because I came into Heroes of Olympus wanting to catch up with their characters. I’ve grown accustomed to Jason and the new host of characters, and I actually do like some of the new ones as much as I do the old ones. So much so that I wouldn’t mind if author Riordan releases another series featuring the whole gang. Or maybe just a one-off.

Going back to The Blood of Olympus, what I liked most about it was the palpable tension you feel as events unravel. It’s pretty much common knowledge by now that Riordan prefers his chapters to be brimming with action, to the point that a scene of introspection surprises when it pops up. But this last book has a good balance of the action and the introspection, and I feel like Riordan has realized that his readership is growing up. Which is a good thing, because while an action-packed book is thrilling when you read it, it’s character development that keeps you going back. It’s character growth that makes you want to stay with a series.

I mean, look at Jonathan Maberry’s Rot & Ruin. The action is repetitive, as a book about the zombie apocalypse is wont to be, but because our characters are growing every chapter, every book, you want to keep moving forward with them. You want to stick with them. And whenever something bad happens, you hope that they survive whatever it is they have to go through. And then there’s James Dashner’s Mortality Doctrine series. Everything is new, but the characters feel like retreads. They don’t grow, they just flow with the plot. And suddenly you’re justifying to yourself why you have to finish the book. And you shouldn’t have to justify when you’re immersed. When you’re involved.

And that’s what Riordan has done in the final book off the Heroes of Olympus series. He makes the readers involved. There is something at stake, and as the characters reach the end of the prophecy they’ve received, you can see them growing up to become better people–you see them making decisions that you know doesn’t come from the author’s desire to make a book action-packed. The decisions come from characters whose previous adventures have molded them to become who they are in the final pages.

That’s what’s makes a book series satisfying. The realization that you have gone somewhere, that you have learned something, and that you did not waste your time.

Rick Riordan, although I still do not like House of Hades, I thank you for not wasting my time.