This week, I’m reviewing the new novella from Wayne Santos, The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling. Part of the Solaris Satellites range of novellas, this wildly adventurous story sees its lead buddy up with a talking demon-horse to take on her enemies, which is exactly as much fun as it sounds. Thanks to Rosie Peat at Solaris for sending a copy of the book – this has not influenced my review.
One hundred and sixty pages doesn’t sound like a lot really, does it? I mean, when you look at some of the lengthy tomes bowing the shelves in your local bookshop, that’s practically a prologue. But then, it’s not about the length, it’s about how you use it.
Slightly smutty gags aside, the point stands. Santos manages to pack a lot into The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling, with more happening across its modest page count than some books two or three times the size manage to fit in. You might think that this results in things feeling rushed, but that’s not the case at all; there’s plenty of fast-paced action, sure, but he’s also not afraid to mix up the pace and slow things down. An early, shining example of this comes as Maria puts her new friend Teek the demon-horse through a cultural exchange of sorts, offering him various Canadian “delicacies” as they form their plans:
That dual identity, of being of Filipino descent but raised in Canada, turns out to be very important for Maria’s character development. There’s a strong theme of cultural identity throughout, as she comes to terms with the ancient divine power residing in her and its weight of heritage, whilst simultaneously trying to reconcile it with being a modern Canadian woman. It’s about not forgetting your roots, but also about keeping yourself open to new ideas and experiences, a wholehearted embracing of multiculturalism which is seamlessly woven into the story.
Speaking of not forgetting your roots, it’s a rather apt term here, as Maria’s gradually growing powers are very nature derived. As the goddess of Mount Makiling – a real place, with her name attached to it too – she is able to draw on the strength of the Earth in various ways, one of which is inspiring rampant plant growth. But she also has a rather impressive suite of standard superheroic abilities, such as strength and the ability to change her size. Altogether, they ensure some entertainingly varied fights and chases, which are frequently breathlessly exciting and packed with lovely little moments of bonding between Maria and Teek.
Teek, by the way, is so awesome that he absolutely needs to be singled out for praise. He’s one half of a buddy partnership here, one that works wonderfully well as he and Maria bounce off each other with an easy camaraderie that makes you wish you were friends with them. On top of this, he brings just as much badass combat prowess to proceedings as Maria does; as a Tikbalang – a werehorse, essentially – he has prodigious strength, as well as the ability to occupy dreams. He’s one of plenty of examples of Filipino myth and folklore liberally sprinkled throughout the story, which are, without exception, endlessly interesting to find out about. If stories with interesting mythologies are your thing, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.
With high kicking action aplenty and a buddy movie vibe that’s sure to raise plenty of smiles and wry chuckles, The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling is both a riotously good time and an enlightening insight into another culture. You can order your own copy from Solaris directly here. Don’t forget to check out the other books in the Satellites range too!