Whenever I ask for Filipino fiction recommendations, the Trese graphic novels keep popping up. I thought I’d dive right in and check it out when I received the whole set for my birthday. There are four installments in the series right now: Murder on Balete Drive, Unreported Murders, Mass Murders and Last Seen After Midnight. I think I put off reading this one because I don’t read a lot of graphic novels or comics and I’m not a big fan of horror books either (because I’m a big scaredy-cat). But I keep saying I need to read more books written by Filipino authors so here we go. Here’s the summary of Murder On Balete Drive, the first book in the series, from Goodreads:
When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions. When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.
I want to kick myself for not getting into this series sooner but then again, maybe it’s better that I discovered it late because at least I was able to devour all four graphic novels one right after the other. I didn’t have to worry about the horror aspects of the Trese series – I read the books at night and wasn’t the least bit scared. I’d like to think of the series more as a blend of dark urban fantasy and mystery instead of horror. I had so much fun going through these books, the pages just flew by. It’s funny because even before I finished reading the series, I was already recommending it to my friends. I think that’s a sign that I’ve become a fan, yes? I love strong female protagonists and I’m delighted that there’s a kick*ss heroine in Filipino fiction that I can root for. You go, Alexandra Trese! She’s more commonly known as just Trese though. Here’s a snapshot that nicely describes Trese’s character:
Each graphic novel is composed of several short stories and by the time I finished the first installment, I had a lot of questions about Trese’s background. This is why the third book, Mass Murders, is my favorite – it focuses on Trese and how she became such an expert when it comes to Philippine mythology. Also, all of the short stories in Mass Murders are tied together so it’s like one story arc, broken out into several chapters. I felt like I was more invested in the story because of this and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that future installments will follow the same format. Aside from having recognizable local settings, one other thing that heightened my enjoyment of the series is my familiarity with the supernatural creatures that Trese regularly encounters. The stories are rooted in Filipino superstition and I’ve heard a lot about duwende, manananggal and aswang while growing up here in the Philippines. We’re not even halfway through the year but I’m pretty sure the Trese graphic novels will be included in my favorite discoveries in 2012.
If you’re curious about Filipino mythology or want to try a different kind of graphic novel, I highly recommend the Trese series. I asked Budjette if these books are internationally available and he replied that they could be ordered through the National Bookstore website. I believe they’re also working on releasing ebook versions and I’ll gladly spread the word about those when the time comes. I’m curious how the series will stand up to readers who aren’t familiar with Philippine mythology. More samples of the black and white artwork in the novels: