Book Review: Tale of the Bidadari by Stephani Soejono


Author/artist: Stephani Soejono

Publisher: Maple Comics, 110 pages

Erlang visits a remote village with his father, a doctor, on a mercy mission. From the architecture and headdress worn by the womenfolk, this community seems to be Minangkabau. Furthermore, the village chief is a woman: the Minangkabau are largest matrilineal society in the world.

Drought has left the villagers hungry and sick, so Doctor Tanuwe’s skills, as well as the medicine and food he has brought with him is well received although there is some indication that there are those who are resentful of his ‘modern’ ways.

Old beliefs and practices are still a feature in the village, and there is even (rather mysterious) talk of ‘sacrifice’ to address the drought.

Meanwhile, big city boy Erlang, is not enjoying himself. Not only does he find rural living and the villager’s traditions alienating and boring, he can’t even have something as simple as a bath because the water sources are dry as a result of the drought. Luckily, he meets Upik, a precocious little girl who proves to be a welcome distraction.

Erlang and the doctor are staying with a villager named Aminah and Upik is her daughter. There are hints that Aminah is supposed to keep an eye on the father and son, and that this is something that she needs to do to keep Upik safe: what is going on? Has it to do with Mayang, a young girl who is kept prisoner by the village chief and whom Upik sets free?

The chief tells Erlang that he should keep out of the village temple and the forest, but while playing with Upik, the boy finds himself led into the woods. There, they are met by Mayang, who opens Erlang’s eyes to the beauty of nature.

Who is Mayang? Well, the title of the comic hints at her supernatural nature. Bidadari are fae and, in Indonesian and Malaysian folklore, they are also known as Bunian. However, despite its title, the story does not really focus on the character, does not delve into what she is, where she’s from, nor the complexities of her relationship with the village and villagers.

I see this story as an account of the experiences of a city boy in a small Indonesian village rather than the tale of a fairy. I admit that the title’s focus on the ‘bidadari’ is potentially more intriguing to readers, but I feel that it is less Mayang’s nature that is interesting than the villagers’ beliefs, including the practice of blood sacrifice to ensure favourable weather for a good harvest. I am curious if this is based on historical fact, or if it’s pure fiction.

As a reader I found this a charming, engagingly illustrated story, but as an editor, I wanted more character development, more exploration of subject matter and themes, and more details in both the illustration and text. I was left with many questions about the nature of Mayang; the village’s past, including the reasons for Aminah’s apprehension; and even a suggestion of what the future has in store for her and Upik, bearing in mind the decision they make at the end of the book.

Finally, I was pulled up short on several occasions because of distracting typos so I hope Maple Comics gets their publications thoroughly proofread in future.

Apparently, Indonesian author/artist Soejono will be publishing another comic with Maple soon. Looking forward to it.






Book Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie

prvenanceAnn Leckie’s latest book, Provenance (Orbit Books, 448 pages) is every bit as enjoyable as her Imperial Radch Trilogy. It’s quite different in its themes, story and characters, but Leckie’s style holds steady at unpretentious, clear and engaging.

Its protagonist is Ingray Aughskold, a young Hwae woman, one of the foster children of high-ranking public representative Netano Aughskold. Netano has yet to name her heir and now, it’s really either between Ingray and older Danach, whom Ingray believes is Netano’s favourite.

In an attempt to win her mother’s approval, Ingray arranges for the release of a Hwae prisoner, Pahlad Budrakim, believing that Netano will be impressed by the plan’s reckless brilliance. In fact, Ingray’s idea is shockingly, laughably bad and stresses just how desperate she is to be noticed by ‘Mama’.

The thing is, Ingray isn’t quite the hopeless case she seems. Really, she’s just young and inexperienced, and incredibly stressed thanks to the way she’s been treated by her mother. Yes, they really fuck you up, your mum and dad. And, it transpires that Pahlad Budrakim and another key character, Tic Uisine, have also, in various ways and degrees, been screwed over by their parents. You could say, the results of all these different kinds of bad parenting are what drive the plot of Provenance.

When I got to the end of this book I wanted to start from the beginning again, and that was how I felt about all three of the Imperial Radch titles. There is just a lot to unpack and think about given that Leckie is all about creating worlds, cultures and technology that you never anticipate.

In the Trilogy, there was the exclusive use of the feminine pronouns within the Radch Empire. In Provenance, the Hwae have three genders (using the pronouns she, he and e) and choose one, along with their adult name, usually in their late teens, although one character doesn’t make up her mind til she’s twenty-five. Another character, the ambassador from the planet Geck, is a ‘she’, but has been another gender previously.

Issue08_Leckie_200x305This ambassador, by the way, may be my favourite character in this book. The Geck are, actually, a fascinating species, whom I hope Leckie will write more about. I would love to see their way of life and their thinking at the centre of a future novel.

For now, read the Trilogy if you haven’t already; and read Provenance. They’re all thought-provoking and exciting stories with protagonists that I, at any rate, got really attached to and protective of. It’s just a plus when you care so much about fictional characters that you start imagining their lives outside the books. That doesn’t happen too often to me.





Book Review: Akata Witch & Akata Warrior by Nnedi Okorafor


Akata Witch is about the coming of age of Sunny Nwazue, a twelve-year-old Nigerian girl who lives in Aba, Nigeria. Sunny is American-born and an albino, and both these things get her picked on at school, including called ‘akata’, a derogatory term that Nigerians reserve for Africans who are born in foreign lands.

When Sunny is beaten up by bullies, she is defended and befriended by her classmate, a quiet, gentle boy called Orlu. Orlu introduces her to the insolent, sassy Chichi and to Sasha, an angry 15-year-old African-American who’s on an extended visit to Nigeria because his  parents think he needs sorting out.

Through Orlu, Chichi and Sasha Sunny gets to know the world of Leopard Knocks, a hidden village where wonders as well as horrors lurk. Her new friends also help Sunny discover her true self as a Leopard Person, someone with magical abilities. But while they come from Leopard families, Sunny’s parents and brothers are Lambs, non-magical people from whom Sunny must keep her identity a secret.

Akata Witch is largely about Sunny figuring out who she is. The story also establishes that Sunny has a part to play in an important and potentially catastrophic event that she sees in a vision reflected in the flame of a candle. And it makes plain that Sunny functions best when working with Orlu, Chichi and Sasha. Together, they form a coven, their individual powers and unique abilities most potent when united.

In Akata Witch, the four battle Black Hat, a Leopard Person whose thirst for power has led him to work with a malevolent spirit named Ekwensu.

In Akata Warrior, the next book in the series, Sunny must face Ekwensu again at the same time as deal with her role and responsibilities as Leopard Person living with a Lamb family, in a largely Lamb society.Read More »

Book Review: Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng


Author: Jeannette Ng

Publisher: Angry Robot Press, 416 pages

This is a complex book, dense with meaning and allusions that I feel I won’t fully grasp until I read it again, more closely. I admit I rushed through it because I was anxious to know the fates of everyone involved. The way events unfold, I felt that it must all end badly, very badly and painfully. Well, they do and they don’t (no spoilers).

The premise is irresistible and strange, and Ng’s crisp and luminous prose is ideal for navigating faeland, a gloomy world, full of secrets and mysteries, and casual cruelty.

Laon Helstone is a missionary who has travelled to Arcadia to convert its natives. Having not heard from him for some time, his sister, Catherine, obtains permission from his sponsors to follow and find out what is going on.

When she arrives in faeland, Catherine finds that Laon has gone to meet with Mab, queen of the fae and although he is expected to return to Gethsemane, the castle allocated to him and, before him, the Reverend Roche, no one can say when she should expect him.Read More »

Book Review: Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

shThis review was first published in The Star on 2nd Jan, 2018


By Jenny Zhang

Publisher: Lenny/Penguin-Random House, 320 pages

SOUR Heart is poet and essayist Jenny Zhang’s first collection of short stories, seven painful and often painfully funny coming of age tales, each featuring a young, female protagonist transplanted from China, navigating the strange waters of the United States and the even stranger waters of family dynamics.Read More »