“Naermyth” by Karen Francisco

Title: Naermyth
Author: Karen Francisco
Read Date: 27 September 2012
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Goodreads Status Updates: click!
Review Preview: I suppose a mythpocalypse could be worse than a zombie apocalypse.

never were they myth in the first place…

The world ended. It was not because of a comet, prophecy, natural disaster or whatever garbage foretold on the internet, but because every myth ever written turned out to be an account of historical fact. These monsters we’ve read about as children waged a war that lead to the human race’s downfall. And the unlucky who survived are hunted down or, worse, tortured.

In these dark times, people could only turn to the Shepherd for help. I am one such Shepherd and I thought my only task was to protect the few humans who still thrived on this desolate world. But when I rescued Dorian from Dwende captivity, I discovered that not only is he the most dangerous thing to have around, but he could be our one hope for redemption. I now find myself protecting a born killer, but in doing so, I’m turning my back on everything human.

OMG, it’s an aswang apocalypse! Well, okay, it’s actually an apocalypse brought about by mythical monsters who were never mythical (“naermyth” = never myth) in the first place. It’s a mythpocalypse! I love the idea.

Francisco paints a vivid post-apocalyptic Metro Manila, ruined and over-run by many different creatures, although this should be extra vivid for Filipinos, especially Metro Manila residents, because Francisco took care to mention familiar landmarks to ground her setting. She also incorporated other places that are often associated with Philippine mythology, like Capiz, Mt. Makiling, and Mt. Arayat.

The voice of the novel is Athena “Aegis” Dizon, a young woman who is part of a group informally called the Shepherd, whose mission is to find human survivors and bring them to sanctuaries. Aegis has the reputation of being one of the best warriors among the Shepherd, and she is hero-worshipped by almost everyone who’s ever heard of her.

I’m ambivalent towards Aegis, though. I suppose it’s easy enough to like her because she’s an ass-kicking warrior and she’s courageous. Likewise, it’s also easy to get annoyed by her because she’s painted as this supposedly distant, cold, and rough girl.

I say “supposedly” because I didn’t really feel that particular brashness or wildness, or at least, that quality is not really unexpected from someone who’s had to live her life as a survivor, protector, and warrior for the past 5 years. The coldness was apparent, at least, to some extent, but I didn’t feel that she’s all that distant either, because she’s made solid relationships with the other Shepherd boys she calls her “brothers,” with the girl Liwanag, with blacksmith River, her mentor Benevidez, and later, with the refugee Dorian. She does try to distance herself from romantic entanglements, but in the context of the story, I think this is more about denying her own feelings than any particular aversion to relationships.

Later, after a big reveal, Aegis attempts to justify her reluctance to succumb to her romantic feelings by attributing it to her nature. I thought that was a cop-out even though it seemed intended to give more weight to a “fight for your love” theme for Aegis. I personally feel that “falling in love despite your nature” would have resonated better than “my nature prevents me from loving but I am willing to fight.” But that’s just me. Anyway, I do get the authorial intention with regard to how Aegis is written, it’s just that I personally feel that she lived up only to some of the hype.

Dorian, the man Aegis rescues from a 5-year stint as a dwende prisoner, reminds me of Berem from the Dragonlance Chronicles trilogy, at least in terms of his character arc of Refugee to Possible Game Changer. “Possible Game Changer,” of course, means that Dorian is more than what he seems. I will admit that I had an initial violent reaction toward the revelation of Dorian’s true nature because I’ve just recently finished reading an entire series about what he is. I got over this when the mythology was fleshed out later on, though, and because his arc played out differently than from what I expected.

Among the minor characters, I am particularly fond of “Tito Bing,” a quirky professor who was hiding out in UP Baguio before Aegis and Dorian found him. He reminds me of Walter Bishop from Fringe sometimes, although Tito Bing is more self-sufficient and…lucid. πŸ˜›

There are parts of “Naermyth” that I think were born out of good ideas but just weren’t executed well enough, like the portrayal of the diwatas of Mt. Makiling. I thought the Armani-wearing guy and the rest of Macky’s court strayed a little too much into corny territory.

There’s also the idea of Fusion, or re-engineering humans and Naermyth. While the fusion (pun!) of concepts of alchemy, magic, and molecular biology was clever, its introduction into the plot came too late, so it had this “tacked-on plot point” feel to it despite being important to the arc of certain characters. It does give more depth to one character, in particular, though.

Then there’s the head-villain-in-name, Valarao, whose motivation is shallow despite trying to convince himself that it will benefit the country, that the final confrontation between him and Aegis felt anti-climactic. I don’t mind villains who are not outright terrifying, in fact, I’ve encountered villains who exude quiet menace or who terrorize people just by the mere mention of his name (Voldemort), but Valarao was just plain disappointing. 😦

I wish the book was better edited. There’s too much going on in the novel and a few more editing passes could have tightened the narrative, and the many grammatical and spelling errors would have been spotted. Francisco also tends to repeat verbs like “sang” as an alternative to “said.” I can imagine the characters speaking in this manner and that’s okay, but if everyone sang all the time, it’s just annoying.

I didn’t care much for the romance aspect of the story, which is surprising, considering that’s one of the things I do gravitate to most of the time. I suspect it’s because of Aegis’ drawn-out denial of her feelings, her subsequent justification to not enter into a relationship, and then a 360-degree turn. The angst was good for drama, but it killed the romance for me despite the “okay, I will fight” sentiment in the end. The interactions didn’t thrill me at all, either; there was no kilig factor. 😦 While “Naermyth” is very readable, I feel like the text concentrated more on the world-building and the plot more than anything else despite the first-person POV, which is probably why I did not become emotionally invested in any of the characters (not even Aegis) or their relationships.

What I appreciate most about “Naermyth” is the concept and the attempt to retell local myths to suit modern readers. It’s something that Rick Riordan has done very successfully for Greek, Roman, and Egyptian mythology. And while I wouldn’t go so far as to say that “Naermyth” is up to par with Riordan’s work, it’s a respectable step towards getting there.

β™₯ β™₯ β™₯
Special thanks to sis Lianne, who gave me this book for my birthday. πŸ™‚

4 thoughts on ““Naermyth” by Karen Francisco

  1. Arlet says:

    2 year late comment here, hahaha:

    I agree on not being personally invested in the characters – which is unusual for me. But yep, it’s a start! Hopefully, Philippine myth stories get more grounding here.

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