Author: Bryce Moore
Publisher & Release Date: Tu Books, 2012
The Hook: We Need Diverse Books rec’d this book as a read-alike for Lish McBride’s excellent “Hold Me Close, Necromancer.” Naturally, I went looking for “Vodník.”
The Lowdown (from Library of Congress summary): “Sixteen-year-old Tomas and his Roma family left Slovakia because of mysterious attacks on his life when he was a child, but when they return, the same creatures of folklore begin to strike again and Tomas, aided by his cousin, will have to bargain with Death herself to set things right.”
Overall Impressions: I zipped through this engaging story.
Moving back to his mother’s hometown in Slovakia after their house burns down was supposed to make things easier for Tomas’ financially-strapped family. This does not exactly work out. It’s a familiar story: Awkward teen, kind of a loner, gets caught up in something bigger than himself, in over his head, finds out he has some special abilities. And it works. It works in some interesting ways, partially because I enjoyed my introduction to Slovakian fairy tales, and a lot because Tomas is so far out of his depth but does not give up despite all his very believable fears. And he’s got a little bit of snark, which is always fun.
Tomas has to adjust to living in a country he barely remembers, making Slovakian his primary language, and realizing that his olive skin, mostly unremarkable in the United States, identifies him as a mostly unwanted Roma in Slovakia.
He also has to adjust to the fact that he can see creatures other people can’t, and they all seem to want something from him. Maybe his help. Maybe his death. It’s a tough call.
Knowing who to trust was bewildering, as Tomas received conflicting and/or oblique warnings and information from several supernatural creatures. “The vodník is trying to kill you.” “We were friends – the fire witch lies.” “Don’t mess with my deaths.” His cousin Katka is his one consistent ally, but she also has a brain tumor – one with a nearing expiration date, according to Death. I really felt all his frustration, confusion, fears and increasing desperation.
I expect at least one sequel – and I look forward to reading it.
The Highs: How the family really comes together as a team as the story goes on.
The descriptions of Trenčín Castle.
I really enjoyed the relationship Tomas developed with his uncle and how it complemented his relationship with his father.
Tomas first thinking “friendly attractive girl not repulsed by my burned arm” when he first meets Katka and then making the mental switch to “awesome cousin” and the friendship they develop.
The conversational tone of the excerpts from “Death in the Modern Day” at the beginning of each chapter. For example, from chapter 14: “Humans like to make deals with Death. It comes with the territory. And while you might be tempted, we discourage you from entering into such pacts. Unless they involve really good dark chocolate. Because some deals are just too good to pass up.”
Tomas’ dad is a librarian and his awesome librarian skillset plays an important role near the end of the book.
Buzzkills: I wish Tomas’ mother played a more proactive role. She has a number of traumatic experiences in her life -particularly the mysterious disappearance/death of her mother- but her refusal to talk about (or let other adults do so) or even acknowledge various things proves dangerous for Tomas and Katka. She and Tomas love each other but her role sometimes seemed peripheral (other than silence) where Tomas’ father and uncle play larger roles in supporting him. Possibly I’m over-reacting?
The Source: Bought the e-book.
Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a trip to Slovakia was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.