Book Review: Vassa in the Night

vassa-in-the-nightIn 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…

Pros – Babs (I will never not consider Baba Yaga a Pro in a book), the visuals of this book, Erg

Cons – The surreal nature sometimes makes it hard to understand just what happened, Vassa can be blind, dead things

Spoiler – If you know the original Russian fairy tale of “Vassilissa the Beautiful” you can guess how this will turn out.

Note – I got only one warning for y’all – if you have a weak stomach when it comes to dead things being described, be wary.

Review – Welcome to the magical land of Brooklyn – no not that Brooklyn, the Brooklyn where the nights grow ever longer as time moves ever slower and everyone knows to avoid BY’s no matter what kind of deal you think you’ll get. Those skulls on the pikes outside? Very real and very likely friends or family of yours. Babs and Joffrey have a thing for displaying those that cross them. Not surprised.

The first thing you kind of have to understand about VASSA IN THE NIGHT is that Porter doesn’t give neat, tidy exposition explanations. The closest we get is the opening prologue where once you understand what’s going on later makes a whole lot more sense as to things. Vassa, her sisters, her stepmother – they all accept the world the way it is. Vague references are made to a time when the nights weren’t incrementally growing longer (but time doesn’t actually pass?), but they’re just that vague comments. Since BY’s Convenience Store(s) opened life has been what it has been, regular beheadings and everything.

Throughout the book there are chapters that aren’t from Vassa’s POV – sometimes they’re directly related to the narrative unfolding (like the whole thing with the swans) and sometimes it takes a little while to realize how it fits into the book (or rather, into Vassa’s overall story). This is a book that I recommend you pay attention to the details – especially anything Erg says. While she’s by in large just spouting vexing nonsense to prod Vassa into doing the right thing, some of her offhand comments are very important.

Speaking of Erg – she’s a true delight. She’s kind of like the grandma who’s gotten to the age where she doesn’t give a damn any more and will say the truth as she sees it. She’s constantly calling Vassa out and throwing shade at either Babs (who doesn’t know she exists, exactly) or the other characters. The truth of Erg is very very complicated and ties into the underlying theme of handling grief and expectations.

Vassa is given a rather rough stick. She grew up with her mother who was the dictionary definition of Bohemian, but who cared for Vassa regardless. Vassa has good memories of her mom, but they tend to get sharp around the edges as the book goes on and Vassa realizes that just because her mother meant well, it didn’t mean she did well. Then there’s her father who makes a wild decision without thought of consequence. Instead of ‘I have a young daughter who just lost her mother and who I am folding into this new family of mine so I should help her’ he thinks ‘Well I’m sure my current wife won’t mind watching the daughter of my deceased wife while I gallivant off to do my thing’.

Erg is the only one she feels she can both trust and not trust (Erg has a habit of snatching people’s belongings no matter how hard Vassa watches her). While Erg is kind of like ‘I KNOW BEST’ in an obnoxious way.

Babs is…weiiiiirdddd. Which when talking about Baba Yaga not that surprising, but she’s a sly, insidious kind of weird. With her associates the hands Sin and Dex (by the way took me way too long to understand the significance of their names), her shop (complete with chicken legs!) and the weird night watchman on the motorcycle outside, she makes a terrifying sort of person. I’m not entirely certain of her motives to be honest, other BY’s are mentioned and other night watchmen are discussed in an abstract way, but Babs plays her cards very close to her chest. This is the part where I got the most confused – I couldn’t see her angle.

The folk tale this is inspired by, “Vasilisa the Beautiful”, is part of a larger tapestry of tales involving Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga is the bogeyman of the story – she traps, ensnares and threatens the heroes/heroines of her stories, but ultimately teaches them something important about themselves or the world. For Vasilisa, the morale often was to “trust herself” and “her strength”, at least in most interpretations I’ve read this is true. Vassa does grow to learn this however Babs’ motivations are so murky. Unlike in the fairy tales, which the ‘villain’ doesn’t need a complex motivation (these are meant to be simple moral tales really), I expected a larger grander plan from Babs.

Overall though I enjoyed this book and magical wonder of it. As my first foray into Porter’s writing this was a good experience and makes me want to read more from her (I should note she has a mermaid series out the “Lost Voices” trilogy, which I will now be checking out thank you).

Want to Know More?

Published by: Tor Teen
Release: September 20, 2016
Series: N/A
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Lexie Words

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