Review: Si Janus Silang at Ang Tiyanak ng Tábon by Edgar Calabia Samar

Title: Si Janus Silang at Ang Tiyanak ng Tábon
(Janus Silang #1)
Author: Edgar Calabia Samar
Publication: April 2014
Publisher: Adarna House
Genre: Young Adult, Middle Grade, Fantasy
Format: Paperback, 179 pages
Source: Publisher for blog tour
Language: Filipino
In a TALA Online tournament in the town of Balanga, all the players fell dead, save for Janus. Soon after that, teen after teen suffered deaths in computer shops around the country. Janus was contacted by someone who calls himself Joey, apparently another survivor of TALA like him. Janus did not expect the truths he would discover, weaving him into the mystery of the RPG that enthralled him—and into the legend of the Tiyanak from Tábon!
In one of my previous posts, I think, I've already mentioned that it has already been almost a year since I first learned about this book, which was still a project at that moment. At that time, I find it clever and ingenious. I mean, is there a Young Adult book written in Filipino out in stores right now? Forgive me, but I can't think of any. If ever there is/are, I apologize that I haven't heard of it/them. Well, if you count Wattpad books as YA, then I'll trim my classification to Fantasy books suited for young readers.

It has always been my battle cry that youngsters nowadays don't read because they've been forced to read books they won't enjoy. (Take that, DEPEd! #SorryNotSorry) No, I'm not saying that I didn't like Ibong Adarna, Florante at Laura and Rizal's Novels, I mean... those are Classics! But if you are bound to face countless class reports and compelled to illustrate every chapter, you'll also be thankful that you can skip the printed word and just opt to watch the movie version instead. I can't remember a time when reading has not been a task but a luxury we students enjoy, a time well-spent, a moment we can't wait for like Recess. I can talk passionately about this because it's not a very long time ago that I've been in the position the kids today are in. Moreover, I've always pointed out that young people don't read books written in Filipino because most of the published books either just talk about love, family, sacrifice, pain and struggles -- concepts they can probably relate to or not but they won't definitely take delight in. Or maybe, just maybe, some of the reading materials we present to them weren't written for them specifically. And that is why I laud Adarna House for publishing this book. Mad props!

I've been a gamer myself. I used to go to computer shops to play Counter Strike in elementary, but what really hooked me was Gunbound, I don't know if any of you still remember that game but it has really been popular back in 2006. Don't let its cute GUI fool you because I've met serious gamers around the world in the Gunbound arena. It's not just two players firing at each other, this artillery game is all about strategic calculation. However, as the fuss died down and DOTA captured the hearts of every gamer I know at that, I let the girl in me bloomed into a lady and shied away from RPG and online games. Okay, let's just be truthful here, DOTA is beyond me. My then 5 year old brother (who will turn 11 in June) understands it better than I do! I've tried so hard, but believe me, this brain I have just won't accept it.

In this book, Janus and his friends chose another online battle arena over DOTA, Terra Anima Legion of Anitos (TALA), a game developed by three Filipinos only known to many as ECS, LOG and JAP.  TALA plays a huge part in the narrative of this book. Online games lure kids and every kid at heart, its magnet is something no one can turn away from and that is why Janus and his friends can't stop playing TALA, be it just for bragging rights or self fulfillment, they know they need to find Tala and finish the game.

Like every other game, TALA has different levels and a player must compete and win against Philippine mythical creatures like the Tiyanak on Level 1.
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Every player needs a BAT or the Bayani-Anito-Tandem to combat the monsters on every level and because of TALA's intricate game design, every player is assured that no BAT is alike.
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A player can choose between a Bagani or a Pusong for their Bayani and their Anito can either be a Diwata or a Nuno.
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But the mystery will begin to unfold as Janus and his friend Harold alongside with four other gamers vie for a place in the nationwide TALA tournament and everyone died as they reach a certain level, save for Janus. The question is: Is the role-playing game really instrumental in the death of Harold and the others? Another gamer Joey, who contacted Janus affirms the theory, but should we really believe him?

I had my 10 year old brother read this before I did. I felt he'll appreciate this because he is an RPG addict like the protagonist of the story. He kept talking about the game and how to play it while reading and that to me is a testament that the author did an awesome job on world building. Well, it is safe to say that he created Janus's universe in a way even young readers can grasp and imagine it. I can say that at a time it is almost believable that I myself had to think about its implication to the real world I'm in. What if, what if the legend of the Tiyanak from Tábon were true?

I don't know if you've already read the first chapter but if ever you haven't I suggest you do. It just doesn't open Janus's story but it's a sneak peek into the life he leads -- a look into his family, friends, environment and who Janus really is.

The book is written in third person narrative as opposed to other Young Adult novels that are in first person but this only allowed the author the freedom to explore not only the thoughts of the protagonist but other events as well.

My instincts tell me that I must stop here and just invite you to the book discussion I will lead next week (I shall announce the venue very soon) or else I won't be able to stop myself from blurting out spoilers. Too. Much. Feels. I can't even....

Let me just leave you with this...
I've long concluded that the books written by The Edgar Calabia Samar are not just manuscripts but a mixture of love, passion and hardwork. Reading his work has always been an experience and Si Janus Silang at Ang Tiyanak ng Tábon didn't stray away from that streak. It is exciting, thought-provoking and action-packed I just hate I need to wait until November for the second book.


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