By EDGAR CALABIA SAMAR
Can I just say this is the first Filipino novel I successfully read the entirety of in Filipino??? Cause um, it IS. Yeah, I had to read “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” in high school, but like I took a shortcut and secretly read the English translations (sorry not sorry cause I passed my Panitikan class and got to graduate BWAHAHAHAHA). I honestly don’t know what to be more excited about; the fact that the story was SO good, or that I was able to finish an entire novel in Filipino.
“Si Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tábon” is about a young boy named Janus Silang. Janus is, like almost every kid his age, is addicted to video games — namely an online computer game named T.A.L.A., which is sort of like the story’s versions of League of Legends (LoL) and DOTA. One night, Janus is in a computer shop with his friend Harold and a bunch of other kids in their little town, when Janus finishes level 8 of T.A.L.A. he feels something go wrong and takes a weird trip home. The next day, he finds out Harold and the other guys at the shop were found dead.
I wasn’t too crazy about this at first. I bought the box set of this series at the 2017 Manila International Book Fair (MIBF) at the Adarna House booth, with the thought in mind that it would be a good way to expand my knowledge of the Filipino language. It’s been a little over a year since then, long overdue, but at least I did it! What finally prompted me to pick this up? Well, I made a brand new personal rule that if a series is finished (or if three or more books of a series have been released), I would binge read the whole thing. I was in the mood for fantasy, so I did a poll on my IG story of what I should read, and the only series I had that was complete was “Janus Silang” and “The Kane Chronicles” by Rick Riordan. Majority of my friends picked “Janus Silang”.
At the beginning of the novel, I almost quit. I found the level of Tagalog surprisingly deep, knowing this is a YA novel. I had assumed it wouldn’t be so, considering the market it was targeting, but then again, when it comes to Filipino, I have the brain of a five-year-old. Not only that but at first, Samar’s writing was confusing to me. I think it was mostly because he was switching back and forth between what was happening with Janus and the description about the video game, which isn’t a bad thing! A lot of writers write this way wherein they switch between narrating the story at present and inserting certain bits of important information in relation to the story. In this situation, it was confusing to me because I don’t really play video games such as this so the description of the game by itself would have already taken me quite a while to comprehend, but then add in the fact that it’s written in Filipino? Tang ina dumugo yung ilong ko.
After a few chapters and some motivation from a friend who read this series before and a whole lot of coffee, I was finally getting the hang of it and I would only not understand a few words in a sentence or a paragraph so thank god for Google Translate.
MY GOODREADS RATING: 4/5 STARS
My Review (SPOILER WARNING! GO AWAY, READ THE BOOK, THEN COME BACK! If you don’t care about spoilers then okay stay hahahahaha):
I’ll be honest, if it weren’t for the fact that I have difficulty with understanding Filipino, this read would’ve been so easy, I would’ve thought it was a middle-grade series, mostly because of the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson vibes it gave off, and these two are categorized as middle-grade and not YA. Maybe it was because of the gruesome and slightly violent scenes? But HP and PJ had a lot of similar scenes? Maybe it’s because the story is centered around a Filipino mythological creature that is commonly known to be scary.
I mentioned earlier that I had help from Google Translate, but when it came to the parts where Renzo and Manong Joey would talk about the legends (of the Tiyanak and Tala respectively), they mentioned a lot of things that even Google couldn’t help me with, and since it was 1 in the morning when I read this, I can’t wake up my parents, so my friend who already read this helped me out, cause it turns out, what I was asking about are creatures in Filipino mythology (so I’m pretty familiar with Greek mythology, but not Filipino? Shaaaaaaame).
By Chapter VI: Renzo, I was hooked. This was when it turned into a page-turner for me. Yeah, Janus getting some weird-ass messages from a stranger was weird, but the story hadn’t quite hooked me in yet. Not until Janus was on the bus and he meets Renzo who FINALLY gives Janus (and me, the reader) some information. And then two chapters later, we meet Manong Joey, who also gives a hella lot of information, and that’s when I just kept reading and reading and getting frustrated with myself again when I couldn’t understand something because I had to stop reading and look it up (or message my friend), because I’ll admit, before chapter 6, I was mostly skimming a lot. I went back and read normally when I didn’t completely understand it, but yeah, I mostly skimmed and ended up accidentally missing the part where Janus talks about the time his father encountered a Tiyanak in his youth, which turns out to be a pretty important detail, mind you! I had to stop and go back and look for the part of the book where they mention it, but thankfully I found it and got to move on with reading the story.
It’s been a while since I read books that had chapter titles, and so it took me a while to realise that in this book, Samar uses the chapter titles to introduce or focus on a specific character. Like how a chapter is named “Renzo”, we meet a guy named Renzo. Same for “Joey” and the chapter wherein Janus was freaking out about Mica, it was aptly named “Mica”. I found this interesting, but then when I realised this and looked at the table of contents and realised the name of the last chapter was “Tiyanak” I had hoped they would just find out some brand new information about him, but noooooooo I had to get a mini heart attack. I mean I had a feeling it was going to show up, but like… it was almost 2 in the morning, it was the dead of night, and I absolutely did not want to wet my bed. Thank god I didn’t, but I was very close (I don’t do well with scary supernatural creatures okay don’t me).
I felt so bad for Janus when he learned the truth about his father, his “brother”, and when his mother died at the end. I didn’t expect that his father was actually dead, and holy shit did I get excited when Manong Joey spilled the beans and was like, “Umm… your father’s been dead for 3 years who the fuck are you talking about?” And when Janus got home with Renzo and Manong Joey, and he went to his parents’ bedroom and checked on his brother, I told myself, “lol, what if Juno ends up being the Tiyanak pala, loooool”… I had to run to the bathroom after Janus told his mom to look after Juno and he runs off and she’s calling after him like, “Boy, who the fuck are you talking about???”
After they defeat the Du-ol, and then they break down the door to save Janus’s mom and the Tiyanak is there, eating her innards, her body on the floor with her stomach wide open, I almost had to stop reading and save it for the morning. Where there’s daylight, and just LIGHT IN GENERAL SO THAT I WOULDN’T HAVE A PANIC ATTACK ABOUT A TIYANAK SHOWING UP IN MY ROOM AT 2 IN THE FUCKING MORNING. Turns out, Janus never had a younger sibling. Janus’s mom did get pregnant, but they ended up aborting the baby. God, this realisation broke my heart even more. Janus loved Juno so much. He plays with him, he cares for him, and when he was about to leave to meet with Manong Joey, he even kissed him goodbye while he was still asleep.
There are obviously a lot of unanswered questions, such as what’s the deal with Mica? Is she going to become an important character later on? I’m lowkey thinking that Mica might actually be Tala, but that might be a bit too predictable. What about the USB she gave Janus that he always wears around his neck? Does that turn out having important information? What if that USB has answers about how to get to level 9 of T.A.L.A.? OMG what if that USB turns out having information on removing the curse of Level 8? Damn, that would be a twist hahaha!
I’m definitely going to be continuing this series. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would, and I can’t wait to start the next book.