By Edgar Calabia Samar
Published by Adarna House, Inc. (2014)
Tungkol sa Aklat:
Sa tournament ng TALA Online sa bayan ng Balanga, namatay ang lahat ng manlalaro maliban kay Janus. Sunod-sunod pa ang naging kaso ng pagkamatay ng mga kabataan sa computer shops sai ba’t ibang panig ng bansa. Kinontak si Janus ng nagpakilalang Joey, isa rin umano sa mga nakaligtas sa paglalaro ng TALA na gaya niya. Hindi inasahan ni Janus ang mga matutuklasan niya mula rito na mag-uugnay sa kanya sa misteryo ng kinahuhumalingan niyang RPG—at sa alamat ng Tiyanak mula sa Tábon!
Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon opens with death. Heavy stuff for YA. But it sets the stage for what will be a heart-pounding adventure that takes the young protagonist Janus Silang from his home in Balanga and straight into the world of legend. Janus is a talented gamer, and on the night of a qualifying tournament for TALA Online, he finds himself the only survivor of a mysterious incident that leaves other TALA gamers dead.
I'm certain that from the title alone, Janus Silang will invite comparisons to Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. True, there are plenty of similarities -- the Campbellian hero and his Departure (more later), the fast-paced action, the mix of fantasy and reality -- to make fans of the foreign series want to try it out. But it is much darker than the other two. The death of his friend as well as other gamers, makes Janus' Call to Adventure different from the others (yes, while Harry's is also arguably dark, I don't think his Call is as urgent or as dangerous as Janus').
Though it may not have been immediately evident because he's in much confusion at the start of the story, Janus is street-smart and mentally agile. He comes alive under Mr Samar's pen. His terror is real; his choices justified. His internal monologue crackles. Set against a small town in Laguna, Janus Silang uses the vivid rural backdrop to create the right mood. By the time the story hits its stride, the reader is already sucked into the myth it has created.
Mr Samar weaves a lot of elements together (the tiyanak, Taong Tabon, online gaming, to name a few) but the story he creates is a convincing, cohesive tale. It's even made me Google just to find if I remembered the old tales differently.
Janus Silang ticks all the right monomyth boxes. But it does not lag in action nor is it comfortable with predictability. While this first book adeptly voyages through The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, The Supernatural Aid, Crossing the First Threshold, and The Belly of the Whale, it still manages to surprise and shock the reader. Just when you think it's going by-the-numbers, it twists the tale just slightly, moving and shifting again and again. It can be familiar, it can be uncomfortable, but it is often on point.
I consider myself a casual gamer but a devoted RPG player. Devoted in the sense that I was so immersed in a role-playing game for a large chunk of the past three years that I lived and breathed it. I used to play a lot more tabletop games; Legend of the Five Rings is my default. In another life, I used to play the MMORPG Ragnarok Online. I had an acolyte/priest on Iris. I played my fair share of video games until work took me away.
Why this disclaimer? Even though I am not as hardcore as others out there, I know the strange kind of addiction that a game can bring into someone's life. It's an immersion unlike any other -- unlike reading, unlike film, and unlike any other hobby. It's the closest I can come to entering a different dimension: to become someone I'm not, to play by a different set of rules, to inhabit a world that is far from mine. That's why I find myself relating to Janus on some level. He gives voice to a lot of young gamers, whose struggle to balance real-life responsibilities and in-game quests often end in stereotypical judgment. Janus begs for a second look: a boy on the verge of growing up, a boy underplays his passion for his family, a boy who observes and understands and adapts to the world around him the best way he knows how.
The level of description of the gameplay and the characters makes the local gaming culture come alive. Mr Samar writes as if he knows what he is talking about. My pet peeve with an international YA book about an MMORPG is how dubious I felt its game's worldbuilding was. The novel revolved around a guy who was supposedly so good and spent all his time in-game yet could not get past the baseworld. I never understood how someone could spend so much time with a game he loved and not be able to advance further than the average player. But Janus Silang was so different. Using the TALA MMORPG was inspired exposition for Janus's character -- how he thought, what was important to him, what his skills were. In the end, I felt that the book respected not just teens, but gamers as well.
Some very minor things that I noted is that Alabang Town Center is on the left, not the right, of the SLEX northbound flyover. I also didn't quite understand why Janus recalled his father's story after hearing Renzo's. He kept saying how the stories felt similar but aside from the getting lost element, the connection felt very tenuous to me. I wonder if there was just a detail that I might have missed. (Please tell me I'm wrong!) But you can easily overlook these and still enjoy the story. Like me, you'll end up wishing the second book was already out. For its tone, intensity, and daring, I think Janus Silang is a truly worthy representative of Pinoy YA.
Side note: Thanks to an interesting coincidence, the blog tour for Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon ends on the weekend where US readers insist that #WeNeedMoreDiverseBooks. Over on a friend's FB page, a discussion cropped up on what it means for Filipino readers and authors to demand for diversity. I felt that Janus Silang is the best way to illustrate my point: as long as there aren't enough stories like this on our local shelves, stories that reshape how we look at things, stories that convincingly represent a reader's voice, stories that challenge the status quo, then yes, let us not stop demanding for diversity.
Si Edgar Calabia Samar ay ipinanganak sa Lungsod San Pablo at nakapagsulat na ng dalawang nobela, ang Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog (2009) at Sa Kasunod ng 909 (2012). Itong Janus Sílang series ang una niyang kathang YA. Nagtuturo siya ngayon ng Panitikan at Malikhaing Pagsulat sa Ateneo de Manila University. Mahigit sampung taon na ang nakararaan nang una siyang makakilala ng isang Púsong.
About the Author:
Edgar Calabia Samar was born in San Pablo City and has already written two novels,Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog (2009) and Sa Kasunod ng 909 (2012). The Janus Sílang series is his first venture into YA. He teaches Literature and Creative Writing at Ateneo de Manila University. It has been over ten years since he last met a Púsong.
Note: I received a copy of Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon for an honest review, but I'd like to think I would buy it and read it over and over.
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