The Malay Mysteries book 2: The Ghost of Silver Cliff: review

From ComicBookNet E-mag issue #411 (03/14/2003)
Review by David LeBlanc. Reprinted with permission.

96 pages, black & white, 7 X 5, $6.95 US
ISBN 0-9717564-2-2
Shoto Press

Written by Jai Sen and Eric Bryden
Illustrated by Rizky Wasisto Edi

The first book in the series was GARLANDS OF MOONLIGHT, reviewed by me in the past, and that book won the 2002 Xeric Foundation Award as well as the NinthArt Lighthouse nomination for Best Debut. The stories are based on Southeast Asian folklore and culture.

That book ended as the spirit vampire had seemingly fooled an entire village to the point where they had tied up the one person who knew the secret of this evil presence and had the means to stop it as if she was to blame. It was a tragic ironic ending, that wasn’t an ending at all for as this book begins Marsiti is freed by her only ally, Hidayat. While he still doubts the existence of the vampire, Marsiti leads him to the person it is masquerading as and soon defeats it though not without resistance and assistance from others who cannot see the deception. Once vanished, the vampire’s work is undone and the villagers see things once invisible to them–rashes on their bodies and overgrowth on the buildings. They all know how right Marsiti was, but cannot persuade her to stay. And so, she and Hidayat head off on where the road may lead them. I was not expecting a resolution of the first story, or a continuation of these characters, so it was a welcome bonus.

The title indicates the nature of the new story as the two take up with sailors who are going a village to buy palm oil but are worried about the legends of a spirit that haunts the cliffs over the harbor and kills all strangers if they stay overnight. The legend began from the story of a young girl who fell in love with a handsome, rich son of a landowner. They eventually planned to marry but a jealous villager killed the boy and in her despair the girl threw herself off the high cliffs. The legend says that she was spared when her soul was rescued as she fell. The spirits who would not let such a beauty pass from the earth imbedded her soul in the cliffs. As the ship approached the harbor an image could be seen in the rocks, surrounded by strange lights, which many believed looked like a woman.

When the group finds the oil is not ready for them they reluctantly stay the night, having faith that Marsiti’s magic can protect them. And yet, one of them is suddenly struggling for breath and I seconds he is dead. They all start to believe in the spirit who kills strangers and cannot stay the next night for fear of it. So the old woman and Hidayat stay alone, determined to solve the mystery.

What is interesting about this series is the introduction to the culture of the Malaysian people and the history of dealing with colonists who take over the land for their own use. In both books we see events that occur apart from the main story that shows that element and in some cases it is used effectively to show how one culture effects the other, for generations. The myths and legends are unique and a fresh subject and yes, there is mystery behind events that need to be solved. The pacing is excellent and the art is delightful with no flaws. The format makes it about equal to a 48-page prestige format book in content and it reads quickly. There is good reason why this group won awards last year. This volume continues the high standards they have set for themselves.