This YA debut sees a teenager discover that a mythic destiny awaits in her parents’ homeland.
Eighteen-year-old Dorothy Dizon, a Filipino-American, lives in Las Vegas. She’s her class valedictorian at Valley High, a star basketball player, and indispensable to her mother, Meredith, who has liver cancer. Though her father seemingly abandoned the family years ago, Dorothy has embraced life to the utmost. Tonight she and her statuesque best friend, fellow Filipina Stella De Guzman, dance at the Tao Nightclub. When a middle-aged man gropes her, Dorothy uses taekwondo to pin him to the wall. She takes note not only of the strange craving in her throat, but also of the man’s exposed neck. The next day at school, Dorothy is dazzled by Adrian Rosario, a new Filipino exchange student. She has no idea that he’s a Danag—a vampire of Filipino lore who protects humans—from the Mandalagan area of Negros Island. As they grow acquainted, Dorothy is impressed by Adrian’s expertise in Filipino history, including his knowledge of the evil vampire Sitan and his duwende (goblin) minions. More shocking to Dorothy is that she has been giving off powerful signals, telling good and evil forces alike that she’s potentially descended from Urduja, the female warrior who saved Danag culture from the Mongols. For his fantasy series opener, Ursal provides a banquet of cultural textures about the Philippines without sacrificing a brisk pace and smooth prose. Adrian seems like the quintessential bad boy, sporting tattoos and driving a Mustang, yet he’s a Muslim who prays five times a day and understands that “we surrender time to Allah in exchange for safety and peace.” The fantasy elements (like Adrian’s glow) remain low key throughout much of the narrative, playfully recalling other series like Twilight. The author also mentions the tragedy of a vanishing culture, for while Adrian discusses Filipino lore, Dorothy thinks: “It would be a miracle if these stories would be remembered a hundred years from now.” Action heats up the finale, as does a love triangle that crudely elbows one protagonist out of the spotlight.
An engaging fantasy whose romantic arc will likely divide readers.