We are introduced to this world by Bulka, a talking cat and longtime family friend and companion to Jennie, the young protagonist of the tale. Jennie’s mysterious and powerful grandmother, Vasilisa, has just died, bringing all kinds of trouble out of the shadows, most notably two Poleviki (field spirits) who work as hired thugs. The Poleviki are seeking to reclaim some very important bones Vasilisa was rumored to have stolen during her formidable years, and so Jennie is thrust into an adventure that started with Vasilisa long ago, and now has finally caught up with her granddaughter.
While Jennie is the main protagonist, she also represents the audience, drawn into magical circumstances she doesn’t fully understand, but along for the ride and thoroughly invested in the outcome. Speaking of riding, Domovoi is like a great supernatural road trip, moving from one mythical or folkloric stop to the next, and there also is a car involved. Jennie often takes a backseat to the more colorful and knowledgeable characters, but she asserts herself in various ways as events unfold and she begins to mirror her grandmother’s strength and courage. This story is much more about the journey than the destination.
Bergting deftly mixes comedy and horror, and the two Poleviki practically steal the spotlight with their matter-of-fact (yet witty) way of speaking and their relaxed demeanor. They reminded me of Jules and Vincent from Pulp Fiction in their familiarity with each other and how the extraordinary events they encounter are just part of the job for them. Jennie’s Uncle Ivan is another character who brings a unique oddness to the story, often with humorous results, though he also acts, along with Bulka, as the connection to Vasilisa’s mysterious past.
It is not necessary, but I enjoyed looking up the names of the different creatures as they appeared throughout the story. I found learning a little about the lore enhanced the scenes and also proved that Bergting knows his folklore, and it was interesting to see how he interpreted it. He brings the world of Domovoi to life with rich, deep colors, and the pages are full of fog, shadows, and smoke. (There is so much gorgeous smoking, like in a 1940s noir film.) The dialogue is measured, a great deal of the storytelling coming through in the elegant art, and the characters are expressive, especially in their eyes, which can speak volumes without a single word.
Not all of the mysteries are explained by the end, but I feel that is how it should be when it comes to magic and folklore – there often remains an element of mystery that will forever lie just beyond our understanding. That is what makes Domovoi so entertaining. It invites us into an unfamiliar world and, instead of explaining that world to us, it simply lets us experience it, revealing important details along the way. This story could easily be a jumping off point for an ongoing series, and I feel, series or not, we will be seeing more work from Bergting in the future, both as an artist and writer.
One last thought, regarding the title. Domovoi means “house spirit,” and while Domovoi do exist in the book, I believe the title is talking about an overall theme rather than a specific individual. I see “house” as meaning “family,” since a large portion of the story deals with the honor of Jennie’s family over the years, from Vasilisa to her. For me, Domovoi stands for “family spirit,” that everlasting, ethereal connection that moves through generations, keeping a family’s past alive, defining its future, and weaving a little magic into everyday life.