Vassa in the Night | book review

Remember my last post, when I said I had a lot of hours at the library this weekend, and I’d probably finish Vassa? Well, I was right.

The Synopsis

In Brooklyn, the nights seem never-ending. Literally. Ever since a convenient store called BY’s planted it’s feet (literally — it stands on chicken feet) in Vassa’s working-class neighborhood, the nights last a lot longer than they used to. BY’s is the only store open all night long, but enter if you dare — the owner, Babs, beheads anyone caught shoplifting, and if a good kid like Joel winds up with his severed head on a stake out in the parking lot, something’s not right. When all the lights in Vassa’s house stop working, her step-sister dares her to go to BY’s to buy new ones. Vassa accepts this challenge and, with her magical doll Erg in her pocket, winds up accepting a different kind of journey altogether.

The Plot

Sound strange? Well, it is. It’s very strange. Don’t just take my word for it — read it yourself. But before you go on doing that, let me give you a little backstory first. Vassa is a retelling of Russian fairytale “Vasilisa the Beautiful” collected by Alexander Afanasyev. Afanasyev was greatly inspired by the Brothers Grimm over in Germany. “Vasilisa the Beautiful” is about a young girl, who is sent by her step-mother and step-sisters, to fetch fire from a nearby hut when all the candles are unable to be lit. She is only able to obtain the fire after preforming impossible tasks. Luckily, her magical doll helps her out, and she returns to her family with a magical light. The light burns her step-mother and step-sisters, but does not harm Vasilisa. She lived happily ever after, of course.

Crazy, right? Well, Vassa in the Night is just as crazy, if not more so. Vassa and Erg get trapped in BY’s, and Vassa must work for Babs for three nights if she wants to be set free. With Erg’s help, she manages to get by fairly well. The longer Vassa is there, though, the more she realizes she’s on a much more important mission than simply buying lightbulbs — she has to take down Babs. It’s a wild story. And kind of a long one. And sometimes it gets boring. It took me almost an entire month to get through this novel. Why? I don’t know. I haven’t been particularly busy. It’s more like I just wasn’t motivated to continue to story. It’s a good story, but it’s weird, and I wasn’t necessarily hooked from the beginning. It takes some time to get into the story. I used to be a big fan of fantasy, but these days I prefer realistic fiction; however, I have to say by the time I was about halfway through Vassa, I was enjoying it. Fantasy lovers, this one’s for you. Seriously. If you like weird, magical tales, you’ll love this.

If you’re like me, and you’re not big into fantasy, it’s hard to get into. It was an interesting experience, though. I was planning on giving it 3.5 stars, but the end bit really upped my rating (which is often the case, to be honest. If you’re going to go all-out at the ending, you may as well…). The story is told in first-person from Vassa’s POV. Though the story is slow at times, the action scenes are pretty intense — my pulse was racing! It’s gory at times, too, so if you’re a bit squeamish, proceed with caution.

The Characters

Vassa wasn’t the most relatable narrator… Though I did sympathize with her at times, I found myself more frustrated with her than anything. The relationship between Vassa and her doll Erg was probably the most endearing part about Vassa. I really liked Erg, and paired with Vassa, they made for a great duo.

All the other characters were pretty minor and almost not worth mentioning. There were many characters, but each popped up sporadically throughout the story just as I was starting to forget about them. Really, the main focus is on Babs, Vassa, and Erg.

Surprisingly, there wasn’t a central romance in this novel. YA novels are typically filled with adolescent relationships, forlorn longing, and stupid hookups. Though Tomin was sort-of, sort-of-not a love interest, the most he and Vassa did was hug. There wasn’t a love story, guys!!! I don’t know if that bugs you or not, but from one book lover to another, it didn’t bug me in the least. I enjoy my fair share of romance, but it truly wasn’t necessary in this story, and I’m glad Porter didn’t include any. There’s one thing I hate more than too much or not enough romance: unneeded romance.

The Writing

Is it just me, or did the beginning seem very Gaimanesque? I liked Sarah Porter’s writing. Her descriptions of things reminded me of Neil Gaiman, and her dialogue was usually well-written. I think she is a great writer of suspense, and though this is a fantasy novel, there’s definitely an element of suspense in there, too. I almost cried when a certain something happened very suspensefully, but I’m in public, so I couldn’t. That’s about the only time I almost cried, though — I could have used more emotion. I haven’t read anything else from Porter, but I might consider it. Like I said, I’m not much into fantasy, and though I had heavy doubt about Vassa, I still might check her out. If you’re unlike me and love that kind of stuff, this is for you — there’s magical creatures, strange happenings, suspense, and a little bit of gore for your pleasure (or pain). Seriously, though, it’s a weird story. Prepare yourself.

Favorite Quote(s)

“I can’t, and I have to. Isn’t that always the way?”

“Why don’t we ever get to hold on to what we love?”

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