by Joseph Bruchac
First sentence: “A monumental tapestry decorates the wide back wall of the Great Hall in Hladka Hvorka, my family’s large old castle.”
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Prince Rashko is convinced he’s the only intelligent one in his family. His parents are odd, always spouting proverbs, talking in obscure riddles, never quite making sense. His older brother, Paulek, has a knack with animals, but can’t seem to remember pertinent information. So, when his parents disappear and the evil Baron Temny his minions take up residence looking for something, though no one quite knows what, Rashko figures it’s up to him to save everyone from their foolishness, hopefully thwarting Temny’s plans.
It took a while to get into the story. Partially, because of the use of Slovak with an immediate English translation (ie, ” Ano. Yes.”) kept pulling me out of the story. What I really, really wanted was a pronunciation guide in the back. I found alternating between Rashko’s story and Pavol’s legend to be disconcerting at first, but after a while I figured out the purpose of it, and thus was better able to understand why the book was written that way.
I also figured out the “lesson” (and the trick) of the book fairly early on. I thought it would bother me more that I did, but after a while I realized that the reader was supposed to figure it out. In many ways, we were more informed and less judgmental of the situation than Rashko was, something which added to the telling of the story in the end. It was a lot of set up, but it ultimately paid off: the ending was quite the battle scene, with a surprising climax.
Not a bad little fantasy.