Vassa in the Night
By: Sarah Porter
Publisher: Tor Teen
Publication Date: September 20th, 2016
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’m going to be honest here, I picked Vassa in the Night from among the rest of the BEA books just because of the beautifully whimsical cover (I’ve since arranged all of my ARCs by date of publication, which forces me to be a little less coverist when deciding on my next read). This was not a choice I ended up regretting. Instead, Vassa in the Night has won a permanent place on my bookshelf.
The first thing about Vassa in the Night that I loved was that it’s a retelling of the Russian fairy tale Vassilissa the Beautiful. But, not only is it an ordinary retelling, it’s a beautifully inventive retelling that creates an atmosphere of wacky, inventive modernity. I looked up the fairy tale, and I loved how elements of it were so cleverly altered–the bulbs, rather than the candles, blowing out, and the night motorcyclist rather than the night knight. But what also makes this great is that Porter refuses to stick exactly to the fairy tale. Instead, she adds fairy-tale-esque elements of her own which meld perfectly with the original.
There’s a fun mix of impossible magic and grounded logic, actually. Vassa strikes me as a very Brooklyn girl–tough, quick-thinking and willing to do what she has to. Baba Yaga’s chicken-leg convenience store, the motorcycle knight, and Erg (especially Erg) all made me feel as if everything was slightly off-kilter. But I loved that sensation. Fairy-tale retellings aren’t always suspenseful, but this one was, simply because I couldn’t guess what was going to happen next.
There was something of a love triangle–but when I say something, I meant that there wasn’t an actual love triangle, it was just there were two guys there for Vassa. This was another place where I really, really loved the grounded magic of the world. Vassa acknowledges a connection between her and the motorcycle knight, but also realizes that he’s some sort of supernatural being trapped in the mortal world, and as such, is kind of out of her league. Instead, she turns to the normal guy who is trying to battle Baba Yaga in his own way–and ends up saving him, which is also pretty awesome.
There were also things I really appreciated about the motto ‘family is who you choose’. For instance, although Vassa had a stepmother and two stepsisters, I enjoyed how the stepmother wasn’t evil so much as grumpy about having to work round the clock to support her family. I also loved how Vassa’s stepsister Chelsea was shown as constantly mothering and standing up for Vassa, even though her other stepsister Stephanie didn’t. This is especially in contrast to Vassa’s biological parents, who are shown as just shy of neglectful, perhaps too much involved in the magical world they are involved in. I loved how Erg was really the closest thing to family that Vassa had, and how much she loved and supported Vassa. All of this was a wonderful contrast from the usual fairy-tale family.
I’m a sucker for twisted fairy tales, but despite that, Vassa in the Night blew me away. It was so inventive, yet realistic, that I fell in love. I honestly can’t recommend this book highly enough.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.