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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter | Review

Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
Get It | Add It
304 pages
Expected publication: September 20th 2016 by Tor Teen
In the enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn, the fashionable people put on cute shoes, go to parties in warehouses, drink on rooftops at sunset, and tell themselves they’ve arrived. A whole lot of Brooklyn is like that now—but not Vassa’s working-class neighborhood.

In Vassa’s neighborhood, where she lives with her stepmother and bickering stepsisters, one might stumble onto magic, but stumbling out again could become an issue. Babs Yagg, the owner of the local convenience store, has a policy of beheading shoplifters—and sometimes innocent shoppers as well. So when Vassa’s stepsister sends her out for light bulbs in the middle of night, she knows it could easily become a suicide mission.

But Vassa has a bit of luck hidden in her pocket, a gift from her dead mother. Erg is a tough-talking wooden doll with sticky fingers, a bottomless stomach, and a ferocious cunning. With Erg’s help, Vassa just might be able to break the witch’s curse and free her Brooklyn neighborhood. But Babs won’t be playing fair. . . .

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows I love fairy tales, but those that know me well know I really love the weird ones. The odd ones. The disturbing ones. The dark ones—the darker, the better. Any fairy tale that features Baba Yaga is bound to be one of the weird, odd, dark & disturbing ones, and so of course, any fairy tale retelling that takes on Baba Yaga’s stories is one I have to get my hands on. Vassa in the Night, a retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful (or alternately, Vasilisa the Brave), is one such story, and when it comes to my craving for weird, odd and very, very dark, it delivers.

Now, I’m going to say right off the bat, this story is certainly not for everyone. It’s weird and it’s odd (and somehow those are different things). The nights are getting longer and longer, even though the clock stays the same (weird), and there’s a talking doll who could eat several times her weight in…well, anything (odd). But more than that, it’s an occasionally non-linear story (something some readers struggle to follow or stay engaged in), where nearly everything is off-putting and slightly discordant—or should I say diskordant, because every single ‘dis’ word that has a C in it (and you’d be surprised how many there are), instead has a K—and this is yet another layer of the strange and bizarre and weird and odd that will be found in Vassa’s pages. And yes, though that may not seem like much, it is a symbol of just how thoroughly The Odd pervades this book. It’s written to make you a little uncomfortable, to keep you more than a little unsettled. Plenty of people struggle enough with “weird” books when it’s just the contents that are weird, but when the storytelling itself goes wonky, that’s enough to drive some readers away.

What’s more, it’s disturbing and it’s dark, and yes, those are most definitely separate things, though they certainly go hand in hand. I mean, there’s a dancing store on giant chicken legs (disturbing), surrounded by a fence of heads on spikes (dark). There are glitter nail polish –wearing disembodied hands (disturbing) who wield axes and are bloodthirsty to tear people apart (dark). There is a missing father who has made possibly one of the strangest fey deals in any story I’ve ever read (no spoilers, but…disturbing and odd and weird), and a half sibling who sends her sister to the dancing chicken-legged store at night, knowing it could very well end with her head on a spike (and hoping it will—dark). There are no cookie cutter happy endings here, where resolution is given to each bit of each story line; where the good guys always win and the bad guys always get what’s coming to them, and any real damage done is undone. Vassa’s world is one that is pretty downtrodden and unsettling even before she gets snarled up in Babs’ murderous machinations*, and even if she should prove victorious and manage to survive her very long nights at BY’s, she still has to go back to that small, unhappy world.

But—there is hope. As with any fairy tale worth its salt, there is some small chance of a silver lining, an improvement in one’s lot. And there is the realization of self that only the really good fairy tales possess, that newfound understanding of one’s own power and competency and agency. And all of these things—these weird, odd, disturbing, dark things—are what drew me in and made me love the book. No, it won’t be for everyone, and the lack of perfect resolution may mean that even some readers who were enjoying the book will feel as if the rug has been pulled out from under them by the end, or as if they’ve invested their time for not enough pay off. But for those—like me—who enjoy the surreal and the bizarre, who like their fairy tales dark and their retellings darker, and who appreciate a good Coming Into One’s Own type of story, you may find it doesn’t get much better than Vassa. It’s fantastical and strangely compelling and has a great voice, and it hits a lot of right notes (the thrills! the chills! the funnies and tinglies!).

I’ve seen some people say it was slow, but you all know I’m not the person to ask about a book’s slowness, because I always seem to love them more when they build and burn and luxuriate in setting the scene.** (Though I will definitely agree with those who felt the ending seemed rushed by comparison, because it most definitely did.) Though it doesn’t seem there are plans as of yet for a sequel, I’m hoping there will be, because I would like to fall into Vassa’s world again, to see what becomes of her and some peripheral characters, and also to see if we get any resolution of some of the weirder storylines—but all in all, I find myself heartily recommending it to those who think they are likely to like the weird things I like, and only cautiously recommending it to those who don’t – and fully curious to know the thoughts of any who do end up reading it!

*Claiming for future bad punk band name… Winking smile
** To an extent, because there are definitely some books that my godddddd are too slow. And I can not abide info-dumping, which makes a book insta-slow.

This book hits stores tomorrow, but until then, you can get more of my thoughts + a teaser of the style in my First Impressions video!


  1. I am so glad to see what you thought of this one. I've seen people add it to their Waiting on Wednesdays and talk it up, but no reviews. I think this might be up my alley. I've enjoyed both the UF series I've read with Baba Yaga in them. This is darker, but that is fine.

  2. I can't wait to read Vassa in The Night! I've heard so many great things about it!

  3. I am *really* glad you liked this one. Makes me hopeful!

  4. I've had a soft spot for stories with a Russian fairytale aesthetic, recently, so I have hopes!

  5. I am so fascainted by this story!!! OMG! Thanks for the review!

  6. This sounds amazing! I love weird and dark stories especially retellings so I think I will like this one! Thanks for the great review. :)

  7. I've been wanting to read this! Sounds right up my alley. Dark and twisted :)

  8. I am so glad to to read this.Its fantastic and happy to see what you thought of this one.I am interesting to read your post regarding this story.Love to read.Many of the students are did not interest to do the essay writing work. Many resources can help you include spelling, grammar and adding additional words to ensure it meets the required standard.Custom essay writing service fulfills all your needs, everything from proofreading your dissertation through to edit or rewrite.

  9. What a truly bizarre book! One of the most peculiar stories I have ever read. I enjoyed it a lot - the writing was really good - a less accomplished writer could not have pulled this off.


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