In this lush, kaleidoscopic children’s fantasy, a plucky Filipino lad embarks on a magical mystery tour in search of a talisman that can save his father’s life.
Twelve-year-old Tetong rolls his eyes at the superstitious beliefs held by people in his Filipino village, but that skepticism is soon demolished by the mind-blowing adventures he experiences in this frenetic yarn. When his father contracts a mysterious ailment that baffles local healers, Tetong sets off in search of a cure and has encounters with strange and supernatural beings. He makes friends with an irascible witch and a creek monster (whom he returns to human form), rescues an injured eagle, liberates roosters from cruel bondage and frees horses from impending slaughter. His good-heartedness wins him valuable allies, an invisibility hat, a magic green orb and the power to fly, but it also incurs the wrath of a sorcerer known as the Man In Black, whom Tetong will have to fight in order to find a magic bird and lift the curse on the Land of the Unknown. Reyna tells Tetong’s story in the classic style of a fairy tale: Wondrous happenings proceed matter-of-factly; developments unfold by arbitrary incantatory rules; animals talk; and a deep moral reciprocity shapes a world in which favors are always repaid. Her prose is straightforward and brisk, her lavish imagery at times almost psychedelic (“[S]mall drops of purple light changed to orange and huge rolling eyeballs seemed to stare at him”) and her characters piquant. Along the way, she includes descriptive passages about Filipino village life, illustrated with engaging sketches. The narrative teems with so much action and spectacle that it sometimes loses the main story thread amid the whirl, but young readers will find plenty of diverting romps to hold their attention.
A busy, imaginative, beguiling fairy tale.