Bookbed reviews: ‘Wing of the Locust’ by Joel Donato Ching Jacob #WingoftheLocust

by KB Meniado

Filipino mythology was something I hadn’t been reading plenty of, and not because of a lack of offering but energy (for shame), but this year has allowed me to explore a few facets of our prehistoric origins and found the experience both fascinating and well, guilt-ridden. So when I was offered the chance to read Wing of the Locust by Joel Donato Ching Jacob, this coming-of-age tale about a mambabarang apprentice set in the reimagined ancient state of Ma’i (now the Philippines) packaged in this lovely cover art by Katrina Pallon, I couldn’t resist. I wanted see how far back and deep into our roots (or high as the flight of a locust?) it could take a reader.

THE STORY

Tuan escapes his mundane and mediocre existence when he is apprenticed to Muhen, a charming barangay wiseman. But, as he delves deeper into the craft of a mambabarang and its applications in espionage, sabotage and assassination, the young appentrice is overcome by conflicting emotions that cause him to question his new life. Pre-order via Dear Books / Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

This story pulled me back strong to the past, alright, with a Maculot-high mountain of world-building intricacies and sense-punching descriptions. It jogged whatever memory I had of the things I read, and tried to hit every blow right off the bat, from sight and smell to hearing and taste, which continued on to the next chapters.

Aside from the level of attention to details, I liked that some of the content were verifiable. And not just because the things have been written about but because several traditions and beliefs remain to this day. For example, there were depictions of celebration (festivals, food, culture), competition (cockfighting, pig chasing, pole scaling), and social hierarchy and expectations (purchasing of slave/servant, relationships, acceptance), which are concepts or practices that can be easy to identify with—and not just to a Filipino who may be living in the same Philippine region as the main character Tuan (Laguna province) but to a wider scope of readers as well.

Last, I noticed the slight touches on showing how the earliest people associated with nature and how they revered bringing glory to self or community. My favorite character was, non-surprise, Liksi, one of Tuan’s friends who was a batibot known and admired for her wit and strength in combat. Will she get a book of her own or take center in the sequel, I wonder?

HOWEVER

…that’s where there’s a little bit of a problem for me.

(Spoiler alert! Highlight succeeding text to read.)

Shouldn’t I be rooting mostly for the main character? But Tuan, as easy it is for his need for belongingness to relate to, fell a little flat for me. I was probably distracted by the equally interesting characters (his half-Kapre friend Gilas, the mysterious bayugin, and Datu Muhen himself), but his development or motivations needed to be clearer.

Another thing that could have been maximized was conflict building, which could have helped me connect better with Tuan and understand what was truly at stake for him, especially towards the end.

tl;dr

Immersed in prehistoric traditions and weaved through intricate storytelling, Wing of the Locust by Joel Donato Ching Jacob is a contender for top Filipino mythology recs. ☁️

This review is part of the #WingoftheLocust blog tour organized by Ms. Zarah Gagatiga of School Librarian In Action. This story was awarded the Scholastic Asian Book Award in 2018. Special thanks to Scholastic Asia for the copy. Read our Review Policy here.
Full disclosure: The author has contributed to this website. Read his works here.
Read more of our reviews for other SABA winners: Sula’s Voyage by Catherine Torres, What Things Mean by Sophia N. Lee.

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