Vassa in the Night- Book Review
Title: Vassa in the Night
Author: Sarah Porter
I honestly loved this book. It is a modern retelling of the Russian fairytale of Vasilisa and Baba Yaga, set in modern day Brooklyn.
I had actually heard this fairytale before, through the Myths and Legends podcast (my all-time favorite podcast, everyone should listen to it), and knew the basics of the story. I hadn’t actually realized the book was a retelling until I started it, and recognized the aspects of the fairytale.
This book is about Vassa and her talking wooden doll, Erg. The doll was given to her by her mother, who passed away. She lives with her stepmother and her step/half-sisters, one of whom she gets along with. It took the aspects of the original legend and added a whole new creativity to the story, which I loved.
Any story with the legendary Baba Yaga is a winner in my book. She is so cruel and unsympathetic, in both myths and in this book. She also knows how to be reasonable, if you can bargain with her- she is featured in many myths, legends and fairytales (thanks Myths and Legends Podcast!), that I loved having her be featured in a full length book, in modern settings.
In this book, she came over from Russia, moving all over the United States with a chain of BY’s, convenience stores open 24/7 that beheads shoplifters (and anyone can be a shoplifter, if you try hard enough). She has her legendary ‘helping hands’, and the stores even stand on chicken legs. The only thing that was missing was Baba Yaga riding around in her Mortar, wielding a pestle (that wasn’t really in the Vasilisa legend, so I will let it go).
Vassa herself wasn’t completely lovable as our hero, but that made her more relatable. She made mistakes, and was impulsive and stubborn. She is 16- she isn’t supposed to be able to figure it all out, or always do the right thing.
I also absolutely loved Erg, the doll. She was so snarky and clever, and just adds so much to the book and the magic in their world. I really enjoyed how normalized magic was in this book- it was just kind of accepted and ignored- a part of their lives, but ignored by the mass population, because no one wants to talk about it.
I thought some of the side characters fell flat- Stephanie, Vassa’s half-sister, for instance. I just didn’t understand her motivations or her hate, and she didn’t work as a fully fleshed out character for me. I also didn’t really get Tomin- he didn’t feel real.
On the other hand, some of the side characters I loved- Chelsea was awesome, and I really enjoyed her character development throughout the story. The swans were also a great addition. The motorcyclist was so heartbreaking and lovely. I absolutely loved that storyline and the interactions he had with Vassa. Even Dexter and Sinister (loved the names, very fitting) were great additions.
I really enjoyed the incorporation of the story of Night, and the black rider- it is briefly mentioned in the original legend, but I loved how the author expanded on it and created a whole story around it. She did a great job taking the smallest details of the story and creating entire plots around them, and I thought that showed a lot of creativity and talent.
It wasn’t a perfect book, though. There were some aspects of the book that just didn’t make sense, or fell flat. What happened to Vassa’s father really confused me. I get what happened, I just don’t get how it added anything to the story?
Some of the scenes were a bit confusing, and I had to reread them to figure out what was happening, and who all the new characters were.
The pacing also felt a bit off to me. It was rushed in some parts, especially the end, but other times the plot seemed to drag on, especially when Vassa was just hanging around in the store, doing nothing. It could have been a bit shorter, because even though I loved most of the side plots, not all of them were necessary or added anything to the book.
Overall, though, I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you are a sucker for Russian Folklore like I am. It was well written, and really enjoyable.