In Sefc’s (The Books of Norene I, 2018) tale, a British man’s trip to Slovakia turns into a seemingly endless series of misadventures.
The story begins with Gabriel James in handcuffs, being questioned by a detective named Horvath. Not long ago, Gabriel planned on spending a nice weekend with his girlfriend, Diana, at her family’s cottage in Slovakia. Although he’d known her brother—his former college roommate—for years, Gabriel had only been dating Diana for a mere three weeks. Things got off to a bad start when he inadvertently broke an unusual vase in the cottage. Diana was in another room at the time, so he made a quick exit to avoid acknowledging his blunder. Unexpected problems with his car slowed his getaway, and he wound up stranded in the forest with a dead cellphone. Not all of his luck was bad, though; he eventually meets Etta, a fellow Brit who travels frequently and knows how to navigate the woods. The two ran into trouble, however, encountering obstacles in their path and unpleasant forest wildlife. Even after they reached civilization (and public transportation), their journey didn’t get any easier—and it was destined to get significantly worse. Although the tone of Sefc’s book is lighthearted, much of the story is well-developed, as are many of the characters. The laudable Etta, for example, often talks of taking risks that Gabriel’s afraid to undertake. He’s shown to be content with his daily routine of work and sitting at home, while Etta regularly travels to new and exciting places. The humor never becomes farcical in tone, as the events are often all-too-plausible; many readers will groan in sympathy during a scene set on a train, for example. That said, Gabriel’s problems are caused more by folly than by bad luck; he makes mistakes that, while convincing, are entirely avoidable. Sefc’s concise prose gently nudges readers to a conclusion that’s clever and somewhat open-ended.
A witty, enjoyable story with a supporting character who steals the show.