Review: Vodnik by Bryce Moore

Vodnik by Bryce Moore

Egalley thanks to Lee & Low Books

Synopsis from Goodreads
When Tomas was six, someone — something — tried to drown him. And burn him to a crisp. Tomas survived, but whatever was trying to kill him freaked out his parents enough to convince them to move from Slovakia to the United States.

Now sixteen-year-old Tomas and his family are back in Slovakia, and that something still lurks somewhere. Nearby. It wants to drown him again and put his soul in a teacup. And that’s not all. There’s also the fire víla, the water ghost, pitchfork-happy city folk, and Death herself who are after him.

If Tomas wants to survive, he'll have to embrace the meaning behind the Slovak proverb, So smrťou ešte nik zmluvu neurobil. With Death, nobody makes a pact.

 Amazon  US/UK | Amazon kindle US | The Book Depository US/UK


* * * 
With very little fuss and zero hype, Vodnik managed to make an impression of a unique, wry and clever story, which I absolutely loved!

There is just so many yummy parts in this book I don't know where to start...

First of all, for anyone interested in cultures beyond British/American this is a must read. Bryce's description of Slovakia and Slovaks' way of life is superb. I might not know anything of Slovakia, but I know Eastern Europe and I grew up in a very similar environment to the one described in Vodnik.

Tomas is a typical American teen who because of bad scarring on his arm is considered a bit of a weirdo and an outsider in his school. He doesn't have any friends despite all his attempts to make one, and he has a phobia of fire and water as a result of him nearly drowning and being burned when he was little, so all his time is spent watching movies and acquiring a massive collection of DVDs.

However miserable he feels in US, when his family moves back to Slovakia his life is turned completely upside down. In the beginning he is sulky and condescending thinking that his life before comparing to what he sees in this new and strange country was better, but then little things slowly start changing his mind.

He is still made to feel an outsider, because of his Gypsy blood, he acquires friends and enemies, but at least he is not ignored. Instead he becomes a part of this grand and dangerous adventure. You see, Tomas is one of rare people who can see and communicate with magical creatures, and when he comes back to Slovakia suddenly he has to admit that no, it wasn't a part of his imagination as a child, he really can see them.

His uncle Lubos works in Trencin's castle and he suggests that Tomas becomes an English guide for the tours in the castle. Tomas is befriended by Lubos beautiful daughter Katka, who helps him to adapt to his new life, so when he starts seeing vodnik, the fire vila and even death herself he can't help but share his dangerous encounters with his cousin, and she believes him.

Vodnik is delightfully unhinged and wants to put Tomas's soul in a teacup for his collection, Death (Morena) is lonely and fire vila can't be trusted. When Tomas accidentally prevents Morena from making her kill, she goes on a rant and lets him find out the date of death of his own cousin who suffers from a brain tumour. Horrified but determined t save Katka, Tomas strikes a deal that he will deliver a different soul to substitute Katka's, so the girl will live. Now he is on the deadline, and with the help of Death in The Modern Day, a hilarious manual for a new reaper left on his doorstep, Tomas goes on a quest to slay the dragons and save the girl.

There is so much more to this book than I can say - it's about adaptation and discovering yourself, it's in a lot of ways about racism towards Gypsies in Eastern Europe, which is tackled really well by Mr. Moore. I am not proud of it, but all he says is true - we are afraid of Gypsies - wild, barefoot, begging and stealing. There is fear, morbid fascination and frustration, and they despise us for our ways too, but perhaps if change went both ways -our perception of each other and our attitude to each other will also change? I had my own creepy story with a gypsy woman in my student days (so I'm talking from experience). However I've never seen the bullying and hostility experienced by Tomas towards Gypsies in my own hometown, more like fear and avoidance.

There are also family secrets and a water spirit who needs to be freed, flashes from medieval Slovakia and bizarre potions... and as an icing on the cake, each chapter begins with a passage from reaper's manual which creates a very humorous atmosphere despite serious problems that Tomas has to deal with.

The only drawback which prevented me from giving this book a higher mark was that Tomas's parents were conveniently absent most of the book through all of their son's ordeals. He gets beaten up and no mention of his parents reactions (do they even notice?). Their characters have potential but barely outlined, Lubos on the other hand plays a role of a father figure, which  is good but surely there should have been more interactions with Tomas's own father? Also school is not mentioned at all (I understand that it's summer) but I hardly believe that it was so unimportant that Tomas's parents wouldn't mention the issue to him at all.

Overall, this is a magical, one of a kind book which i would recommend to anyone.

* * *
А ведь замечательной книжкой оказался Водяной! Ну очень всё жизненно описано - впечатления американского подростка от Словакии, его адаптация к жизни в пост-коммунистической атмосфере страны, расизм и предубеждения против цыган...

С другой стороны, мифология и фэнтэзийная часть Водяного проработаны не менее тщательно. Водяной - этакий восхитительный прототип Остапа Бендера, - остроумный и совершенно больной на голову, Морена (Смерть) одинокая женщина с одержимостью к организации и страстью к леденцам. К каждой главе также прилагаются смешные отрывки из книги для помощи новым Смертям - Смерть в Современные Дни, в которой Томас, главный герой, пытается найти решение своих проблем с Мореной, с которой он заключил сделку, чтобы спасти свою умирающую от рака двоюродную сестру, а также с водяным, который пытается утащить его душу к себе в чайную чашку...

Сумасшедшая, смешная и очень умная книжка! Рекомендую особо для тех, кто устал читать подростковую литературу, не выходящую за пределы Америки, которая ну просто пуп земли согласно большинству YA.


  1. Thanks for this great review!

    I think I have this book in my TBR-pile, and since Slovakia is my neighbor, I think it may actually be an interesting read! One thing I don't really get, is a fire vila really called Vodnik? I'd say it's more of a water element, but that's just me and my slavonic roots. xD

    Agnieszka @ Nook of Books

  2. Oh, it's just me phrasing the thought in a weird and wonderful way, Agnieszka! :) You are right, fire vila - fire element, vodnik - water element, death - grim reaper. They are three different characters I was talking about :) Me and my slavonic roots really liked that book, so I hope you read it too!

  3. Yay! Eva, I really hope you enjoy it as much as I did! ;)

  4. Not heard of this, but it looks amazing! It's an interesting idea and I can see why someone with Slavonic roots would want to read this. I'll try and get hold of this some day!


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