Vassa in the Night
Author: Sarah Porter
Genres/ subjects: YA, fantasy, fairy-tale retelling, magical realism
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…
I received this book in my September fairyloot box. It wasn’t a release I had heard anything about, but retelling are a huge favorite of mine, and the use of a Russian tale really intrigued me. Vassa in the Night is a modern fairy-tale that would make the perfect basis for a Tim Burton film. Much like many of the original fairy-tales, Vassa in the Night manages to be both magical and really creepy.
The world-building and setting is definitely the strongest aspect of the story. Vassa’s Brooklyn neighbourhood and the homelife with her sisters is easy to envision, the mundanity of it providing a contrasting background for the madness of Vassa’s adventure in the BY store. Bab’s store itself, feels like a twisted kind of Wonderland. It’s full of crazy characters and nonsensical conversations, all of which seem designed to confuse poor Vassa, leaving her to wonder who and what to trust.
Another of my favourite aspects of the story is Vassa’s best friend, a living wooden doll called Erg. She’s a loud character, full of personality, who often knows more than she’s telling. The scenes between her and Vassa are in turns funny and touching, filled with the kind of casual bickering that reads like these characters have a well-established history together.
The writing is beautiful and full of colourful imagery. For my tastes, this sometimes ran too close to purple prose, but I’m sure there are others who would adore it.
I felt the weakest aspects of Vassa in the Night were the ending and the side-plots. There were lots of areas of back/side story which felt like they should be important but weren’t (the old man and Sabine for one) or that simply felt underdeveloped. I would have liked to know more about Babs real customers, the conflict with Bea and the other BY franchises. The ending felt rushed and overly simple – everything seemed to happen all at once and it felt just a little too easy after everything Vassa had already been through.