Naermyth by Karen Francisco
Number of pages: 304
My copy: paperback, from Fully Booked
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.
* * *
I spotted Naermyth by Karen Francisco in Fully Booked by sheer accident. I was supposed to get The Giver by Lois Lowry when I felt like ambling over to the Filipiniana section of the store and then I saw the black and orange spine of the book. I thought it was just a new local comics or something but when I read the blurb, I was sold. Could it be? Local dystopian fantasy? This I have to read.
Naermyth is a word play on the phrase “never myth”, which is what the people used to describe creatures that caused the apocalypse after they attacked the human race. These are creatures from Philippine mythology that we have often watched or heard stories from as children — aswang, duwende, kapre, nuno sa punso, diwata, etc — that we thought were just that: myths. However, it turns out they were never myths at all, and they attacked defenseless humans, quickly wiping out civilizations and most of the population. The only remaining resistance against these creatures are the National Bureau of Conflict and Transport or the NaBuCAT, informally known as the Shepherds, who find remaining survivors and give them refuge against the Naermyth.
The story is set in the Philippines 5 years after the war between human and Naermyth started. We meet Athena “Aegis” Dizon, one of the best Shepherds on their way back to the Ruins after a rescue mission. Aegis is one of the best Shepherds in their NaBuCAT branch, but she is also one of the least affectionate and most brash among all of them, an issue that her brothers often tease her with. Aegis doesn’t mind, because she knows that if she wants to live in the world now, there is no room to be soft. On their way back to their headquarters after a particularly bad night with an aswang and a duwende in the morning, Aegis rescues Dorian, a mysterious man who has no memory of the last five years and no knowledge of the Naermyth at all. Aegis brings him to the headquarters, and despite her usually brash nature, she finds herself connected to Dorian in ways she could not explain. When they find out what Dorian is, Aegis goes against all she believed in as a Shepherd to protect him. As Dorian tries to find out about his past, Aegis finds out more about hers, and they uncover a conspiracy that could destroy everything they had worked for.
I think the best thing about Naermyth is its realistic world building. It’s often hard to get into dystopian fiction especially if the world is does not feel real, but Karen Francisco managed to create a very believable post-apocalyptic Philippines, making the different places in the country come alive as a setting. I liked how she used Ruins as a fortress from its bazaar status in the past, and how Makati is Naermyth territory because of how it used to be a swamp. It wasn’t contained in Manila, too, but in other provinces in the Philippines: Baguio is a dead spot for Naermyth because of its altitude, as is Pangasinan being the country’s salt center (salt was used as a weapon against aswang because it stops them from regenerating), while Capiz is obviously Naermyth headquarters. And it didn’t stop there, too, because it’s not post-apocalypse if it doesn’t involve the rest of the world, right? Other countries were also affected by the uprising of these creatures, but each country has their own kind of Naermyth based on their folklore. Norway has dragons, and yes, even the Loch Ness monster is alive. With all these elements securely in place, it’s easy to believe in the world that Aegis lives in, and I don’t get surprised when weirder creatures surface.
That being said, however, Naermyth suffers from attempting to cover so much ground in one book. Don’t get me wrong — I liked a good mystery, I liked conspiracies, I liked betrayals in my dystopian fiction. However, I felt a little bit overwhelmed with all the events happening…and then, that feeling would be abruptly interrupted with information overload, in the form of a dialogue. It seemed like some parts of the book were too much tell rather show, and even the encounter with the bad guy at the end felt more telling than showing. Also, while I liked Aegis as a heroine, I wasn’t sold on her past. I felt that it was opened up a little too late. If Aegis’ past was so important in the end, I didn’t feel it was stressed too much at the start since most of the focus was on her family and Dorian’s past. The romantic angle was kind of weak, too, and personally, I could have done without it. And if you would allow me to nitpick a bit — I was very distracted at how many synonyms of “said” were used. I’d like to believe that the characters don’t always roar or scream when they’re in a normal conversation. It is true what they said: replacing “said” a bit too many times in the text is very distracting.
I think Naermyth is the first of its kind that is not a graphic novel (correct me if I am wrong, though), and I think it’s a feat in itself. This book is a fulfillment of what some friends and I were wishing for a few months back: a fantasy novel written by a Filipino that makes use of the plethora of creatures from our own mythology. Despite my slight issue with the plot and the pacing and that little nitpick, I still enjoyed reading Naermyth. This is not YA, but I think YA dystopian fantasy fans will like this well enough. It’s a solid debut, and this book gives me hope that we will see more Filipino fantasy books on shelves (virtual or not) soon. It’s about time, don’t you think? :)
You can find more info on the book on the official website, and look, a book trailer!
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