The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling is the second novella in the Solaris Satellites series, and like the first, These Lifeless Things by Premee Mohamed, is thought provoking and difficult to write about. However, this is for different reasons. Whilst These Lifeless Things was dark and nebulous, this novella is hilarious and a real bright spot but hard to say much about without spoilers.
The book is very firmly rooted in time and place. Set initially in Toronto, there are cultural references that really bring Maria to life. She’s of Filipino descent but doesn’t know the language and has never visited the Philippines. Furthermore she only has vague memories of folktales told to her as a child so lacks knowledge of her heritage.
From the opening scene, we know that Maria is different. She knows it but doesn’t know why, although she recognises reoccurring patterns and sequences of events: if she falls in love, death will follow. Her not-quite-so ordinary life descends into chaos and from there in, we see her decide to break these patterns. Along the way, she befriends a demon horse and discovers she’s a goddess of Mount Makiling.
This is where it becomes apparent the story isn’t all as playful as it first appears. There are layers. In some ways, it’s a commentary of someone firmly knowing who they are but then discovering more about themselves as a second — or more — generation immigrant. (Part of my heritage is Jewish, so I’m a third/fourth level immigrant from that side of the family and I really wish more of my heritage was shared with me, but that’s a different story!).
And on top of that, the story introduces Filipino culture and folklore: tikbalangs, diwatas, duwendes. All new to me.
Coming back to playful… the book is sharp, funny and a breath of fresh air. It’s almost too funny in places, to the extent I may have gigglesnorted out loud more than once. The jokes and puns are smart and so well-written that they creep up and smack you in the face. And the scene where Maria introduces a non-Canadian to local food might be my favourite ever fictional scene.
What else can I say that’s free of spoilers? The characters are fully formed and definitely not all human. They all have their own motivations and face the consequences of those. The world building is huge, which for such a short wordcount says a lot about Santos’s skills as an author. And it’s a world of balance, with dark and light and shade. And magic.
Would I recommend this book? Oh hells yes. It’s wonderful and is a strong contender for my favourite ever novella.
Publication Title: The Difficult Loves of Maria Makiling Series: Solaris Satellites Author: Wayne Santos Publisher: Solaris Publication Date: 26th March 2021 Synopsis:
Maria is, in no particular order: a concept artist at one of Canada’s biggest videogame studios, the goddess of Mount Makiling in the Philippines, and in love. And right now, being in love is her biggest problem.
Because when Maria falls in love, tragedy and death follow—and always have. For hundreds of years. If she wants to break the cycle, it’s going to take everything a goddess, her newly-befriended, anime-obsessed demon-horse, and Canadian national treasure Margaret Atwood have to make it happen.