I have been mildly aware of Eastern European folk tales and fairy tales since I was young, as I read just about every book I could find on mythologies from all over the world (I love variations on the Baba Yaga story, for example). The tales referenced in Vodník by Bryce Moore are new to me, however, so it was fun to see a new set of myths in action.
Tomas was born in Slovakia but moved to the States with his family when he was six after he got burned and was nearly drowned. After he had lived in the States for around ten years, his house was destroyed by fire, and his parents decided they needed to move back to Slovakia. Tomas was not thrilled by the prospect.
After they move to Trenčín, in northwest Slovakia, Tomas meets Katka and her father Ľuboš, relatives who knew him when he was younger. He hits it off immediately with Katka and gets a job at the castle as a native English speaking tour guide.
Things get strange when he meets a fire víla (a kind of fire spirit), as well as a water spirit named Lesana who is working for a water demon called a vodník. He also meets Morena (known to most as Death) and makes a deal with her to provide a soul to replace Katka’s, due to Katka’s imminent death. Most of the book is about his efforts (and Katka’s, once Tomas tells her about everything) to save Katka.
The story was very interesting, and the pacing was generally quite smooth and consistent. A decent portion of the prose was spent on Tomas dealing with the prejudices against the Roma (or Gypsies), but Moore does it in a way which works within the story, so I never felt like it was preaching. The characters also did a good job of resolving the issues in a realistic manner.
My only complaint was Tomas’ mother, as she felt very inflexible and two-dimensional throughout most of the story. I could tell that Moore was trying to make her very willful and scared of discussing the issues surrounding Tomas and her family, but she never really seemed to grow much in the story (except very abruptly at the end). That is minor, though, as she doesn’t play a significant part in the story until right at the end.
One thing I especially enjoyed (and for which I won’t give spoilers) is how one of the plot threads was resolved without the entire story being told. This thread actually surprised me a little bit, as the story never really hinted that it would resolve this way. I think it worked out well, however, because going into that plot thread more than the author did would have weakened the tightness of the story. It left an opening for a possible sequel, too.
Vodník is written for young adults and therefore includes a “young adult style” in the way the prose is written, likely because it was written in first person perspective from Tomas’ point of view. It is a strong story, appropriate for any age, with interesting characters and an interesting setting. I recommend Vodník as a great read.
Release Date: March 20, 2012 (USA)
ISBNs: 1600608523 (9781600608520)
Publisher: Tu Books
MySF Rating: Four point zero stars
Family Friendliness: 95%
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (strange potions)
Sexuality: 1 (very mild innuendo)
Violence: 2 (bullying, vicious bully attacks, vodník attack, fighting a giant monster, death)