This novel is based around a small village called Chust, in Romania. Chust is a small 17th century village surrounded by a large and sinister wood, full of shadows of unease. The villagers were frightened of the wood, and all that it contained. They were wary of ‘outsiders’ and were led by tradition. They especially believed in the Miorita, a song about a shepherd murdered by his fellows and through a lamb, he sends word to his mother that he is not dead but has gone to ‘marry a princess from a distant land.’ They believed in vampires and ghouls and the Shadow Queen.
Peter and Tomas lived a nomadic life. They moved from place to place and were not accepted in Chust. They were wood-cutters and lived on a little island with flowing water around it. Peter does not understand the significance of this moat and thinks it is just an attempt to try and bond with him. It was the first time in years where Peter and Tomas were working together and enjoying it. It is a metaphor of their own existence; lonely, isolated and secretive. Tomas has no interest in making friends and shuns society. This means that Peter doesn’t have the chance to make relationships as they are always moving around. This exacerbates his sense of isolation and makes him resent his father more. Peter does not understand what Tomas was running away from, mentally or physically.
Before Peter was born, Tomas was enrolled to fight with King Michael, the ‘Winter King’. The fighting was long and savage and there was lots of bloodshed. When invading a small Turkish town, Peter found a sword. This was not just any sword. It had the power to kill vampires.
“The sword was made in a land were vampires were common. This sword has the power to vrykolakoi for good.” Vrykolakoi are the living dead, souls, escaping from corpses.
When Tomas’s wife died giving birth to Peter, Tomas believed his life wasn’t worth living. He had lost the only person who had cared for him, who loved him. This was ironic because his job was to return dead souls who want to be alive and here he is with no will to live and wanting to die. He doesn’t recognise the needs of the living like he does the need of the dead.
Tomas starts drinking to numb the pain of his wife’s death. This is one of the main causes of Peter and Tomas having an intermittent relationship. Tomas gets infuriated as Peter always tries to stop him drinking but Tomas sees it as an invasion of freewill.
“By the time Peter got inside, Tomas had already poured himself a glass of rakia. ‘Have some?’ he asked. Peter shook his head. ‘For God’s sake!’ his father shouted, without warning. ‘For God’s sake, drink with me for once!”
Peter is scared of Tomas. He is intimidated by his father. He feels that Tomas is holding him responsible for his wife’s death. The live in their own worlds.
“Who is ‘we’? There is no ‘we’ here.”
When Peter was 5, Tomas had made him a wooden goose. Tomas was very skilled at carpentry and it was a beautiful masterpiece, a gift of love. In a fit of rage, Tomas destroyed the goose. By doing this he was breaking any bond that he had made with Peter. Peter tried to make another goose, but it was never as good. This symbolises their relationship, never to be as good as it once was.
As Peter was growing up, Tomas lied to him to keep the truth from coming out about his past. Whenever Peter went into Chust to deliver logs, he would come back with stories. Stories about flocks of sheep being attacked and people dieing. Peter would tell Tomas of these but he would be scornful of them, and me for believing them.
“There’s all sorts of commotion in the village’, Peter said. ‘Sheep have been attacked in their sheds.’
‘So the wolves are getting hungry. What of it?’
‘It’s not wolves. Well that’s what they’re saying in Chust’
‘Pah!’ Tomas spat on the floor. ‘Idiots! And you’re and idiot too for listening”.
For as long as Peter could remember, Tomas had a box. Tomas had said, ‘Do not look in the box under any circumstances’. For Peter, this is just another mystery about his father and impairs their relationship.
At the end of this novel, Tomas rode into the crowd of hostages and started slaying them to the ground. Tomas knew he was going to die and this was a last effort to show Peter that he always loved him and that he was a good father. As soon Tomas was engulfed by the vampires, Peter immediately picked up the sword and fought until they were all dead. This is know as the ‘Elizabethan Revenge Tragedy’ stating that is you’re father dies you must avenge his death.
When Peter went back from the battle he found a wooden goose in the tool shed. This was to symbolise that he has moved from place to place all his life and he should carry on moving, like a bird.
“Tomas’ eyes were closed, but in his mind he could see Peter twisting and stroking the blade from side to side. ‘That’s it. Feel it.’ In his heart, he heard Peter’s reply.
‘Yes, Father. My swordhand is singing.’