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on 6 January 2012
Whether you're familiar with Philippine mythology or not, you'll enjoy this diverse collection of fantastic Filipino fiction. From pre-Hispanic rule to modern-day Philippines, stories of deities, culture, legends and beliefs come together in one spectacular volume. Reading some of these is almost like coming home for me, but I must admit, the twists and turns are way better than how my late grandmother had told them.

Ana's Little Pawnshop opens the volume and was a fun read. The pawnshop reminded me of a Gaiman work called "Chivalry" about an elderly woman who finds the Holy Grail in an Oxfam thrift shop. Eliza Victoria's writing reads so different here. I like the tone, but I didn't really feel much for Ana's loss as described by the narrator. I've read a few of Eliza's stories and many of her poetry. Her grasp of emotions and ability to convey them in writing is, for someone so young, quite remarkable. I guess, this "fun" in Ana's Little Pawnshop had to sacrifice that raw emotion you get when you read her other works. Overall, the story is very engaging with its crisp, believable dialogue and a good opener to get readers involved from the start.

Whilst "Harinuo's Love Song" was well-written and showed Rochita Loenen-Ruiz's range as an author, I didn't enjoy it as much as I did her other stories, especially those published by Fantasy Magazine. I normally don't need to be familiar with characters or cultures in order to enjoy a story. "Harinuo" has that feel of that writing she did with "Hi Bugan ya Hi Kinggawan," yet it took so much for me to get used to the former. But then that's just me, I get distracted by everything and at one point couldn't help but google Antoon Postma and read about his works, too! The next story, "The Last Full Show," on the other hand, reeks of familiarity. I haven't read the Trese books, I meant the familiarity to the setting, reference to urban legends ("Robertson"), amongst others. I really enjoyed this one.

"The Alipin's Tale" is very rich both in Philippine mythology and historical characters. Endlessly fixated on Greek mythology, this is the first time that I remember encountering a Filipino story that reads like one. The tale is rich in events, rich in fantasy, rich in religion... even with the footnotes to the story that so and so was a reference to a myth, I thought that this take was still very original, also enjoyed this one.

"Keeper of My Sky." Alternate realities, a series of what could have beens, like reading Einstein's Dreams, trying not to kick up dust. This has to be my favourite in the volume. Beautiful.

"Conquering Makiling" is sharp, witty and sexy. I felt I was invited by friends for a climb up Makiling and instead of getting nervous and tired, it became a walk in the park and just that - a gathering with friends. (Damn I didn't realise Philippine myth is this hot haha).

"The Sorceress Queen" reads like a modern fairy tale with lots of twists and turns. Interestingly as I read I began relating the setting to a smaller one, such as that of a household, that is, of mine. Men, women, pride, two different kingdoms or countries, where shall we live?

"Beneath the Acacia" was also enjoyable because not only it is fantasy, there is also a lot of mystery with the characters discussing clues / red herrings. The entire story already felt like the climax / reaching for a resolution. I wanted more. Celestine could write a full-length novel based on this story. One story that deals with the kapre, Victoria and Mang Andres, surrounded by the story of Juan and Maria.

I got drawn to "Offerings to Aman Sinaya" because of the boat and water details. Fascinating. I don't know why this made me think of the film "Whale Rider." Maybe because the author lives in New Zealand?

This is the first time I've read David Hontiveros (I'm missing out, I know). I felt like I was dodging bullets. So many thoughts on a page. God that was manic - exhausting, in a good way. Reading this anthology was like a roller-coaster experience. The styles are simply so varied. I have to admit that whilst I have favourite stories in the anthology, Mr. Hontiveros' writing is the kind that I like. That thing that's said about (some) male authors expressing in a page what (some) women authors would write in 10.

Dean Alfar's "A Door Opens: The Beginning of the Fall of the Ispancialo-in-Hinirang" ends the volume. I was prepared to be put off when I heard that this story made use of footnotes. I know it helped that the story is not as long as "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell," which footnotes I became very impatient with. Mr. Alfar's writing, was, as usual, excellent and very readable. Loved the part when some heroes appeared which sort of equaled the good number of women appearing in this book :)

One of the unsung heroes of this book is the amazing, breathtaking art of Mervin Malonzo. There were stories I didn't want to end but what made things better was the fact that it meant there was a Mervin Malonzo art coming up.

Browsing through the appendices gives one an idea why this took a year or so in the making. I've worked with editor and publisher Paolo Chikiamco in "Ruin and Resolve." This is the kind of editor who will stand alongside his author and dissect a story till it is in its possible best form.

As it has been repeatedly said, these gods and goddesses come in different forms across the islands. We have different names for them, we have our own stories about them. The trouble is there is not a single reference book for all these myths. You know them based on what your grandparents'/playmates' stories. But not many would really be patient to read the nonfiction stuff/related literature. This anthology is probably the only one you'll find today that brings back these stories to us and one that speaks to today's society. Roll in volume 2 :)
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