"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 away 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…." - from Goodreads
What an odd, darkly beautiful book.
I'm having a hard time reviewing this mostly because there are so many elements of it I still cannot wrap my mind around. If you want a basic review: Vassa in the Night is a modern retelling of the Russian fairy/folk tale "Vasalisa the Beauitful" set in Brooklyn. But not Brooklyn as you've ever seen it before, because where is the fun in that? it is a Brooklyn which hides (not very well) magic in its shadows, where night is lengthening and the one all-night convenience store franchise dances on chicken legs above a circle of the impaled severed heads of would-be thieves.
Personally, I love books that are out of the box, but even with my capacity for handling the strange, this particular book is not one I'd recommend to everyone, precisely because of how...well, strange it is. That's not to say I did not thoroughly enjoy it. But there were parts that I didn't understand at all. Did that stop me from reading? No, because the parts that I did understand I was enveloped in.
Everything about Vassa screams classic fairy-tale, blood and gore and strange lessons that the protagonist (usually barely an adult) has to learn along the way and impossible tasks included. And, as most of you who have read my reviews know by now, I have a weakness for fairy-tale retellings, especially dark ones that pay homage to their predecessors by not shying away from the sad, dark reality of magic and its consequences.
Where was I? Oh yes, attempting to review this book. FIrst of all, I'd recommend reading about or straight up reading the original first, because seeing the way Sarah Porter makes the original story into her own modern fairytale is magical in its own right. Also, it somehow made a little more sense after reading the original tale. A little.
I'll be honest, there were times that the characters of Erg (Vassa's magical, talking/moving wooden doll) and the Motorcyclist grated on my nerves (their vagueness, their nonsensical sayings) but even with that irritation, which only served to enhance the strangeness of the story as a whole, I really enjoyed my reading experience. Vassa's choices sometimes left a lot to be desired (think of those characters in horror movies that decide to check out the strange noise), but considering her circumstances, you can't help but sympathise with her. Mostly.
As mentioned before, Vassa in the Night is not for everyone, even as retellings go, but for those of you willing to venture into the realm of "wait...what?" then try your luck with Sarah Porters weird, touching, magical story. If nothing else, it will take you on a strange, dark journey.
(Some) Memorable Quotes:
“BY's does all kinds of public relations campaigns saying that they only behead shoplifters.”
"There are certain areas of human existence that are susceptible to nice clear explanations, and then there are the shadow-zones beyond where words just wont measure up."
"I might laugh if I wasn't breathless with beauty and velocity; I might cry if I wasn't trying to laugh."
“Sleep is larger than any night, he told me. It's large enough to fill the mind.”
"I stagger upright, making an effort to slow my breathing, and push into a void whose only landmark is my own misplaced hope."
If anyone has read Vassa in the Night, let us know what you think in the comments below! Comments also open to further book/movie/show recommendations, anything you’d like to see reviewed, or general feedback. We’d love to hear what you have to say!