Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter | ★★★★½

I first read Vassa in the Night in August of 2017. It was recommended by Leigh Bardugo, one of my favorite authors, in library interview I watched on YouTube. I find it really fascinating to see what works inspire my favorite authors. It causes me to look into books that I otherwise might never give a chance. In investigating Bardugo’s recommendations, I was enchanted by the summary for Vassa in the Night.

I already knew I loved fairytale retellings set in the modern world. I was unfamiliar with Vasilisa the Beautiful, but eager to check out this book that sounded so different from anything I’ve read. From skimming the top reviews on Goodreads, I can tell this book is a little polarizing. After having read it a second time, I’ve compiled a list of notes you might like to know ahead of time if you want to enjoy it.

  1. You need to suspend your disbelief and not expect there to be explanations behind the magical stuff that happens. Rules and reasons for ambiguity will emerge gradually and you just have to take them as they are, as Vassa is forced to.
  2. Two, you need to know this book is really weird. So fantastically weird. I saw one review that compared it negatively to Alice in Wonderland, however, I do not agree that it matches that level of inexplicable absurdity. The absurdities in this book have interpretable meaning.
  3. Oh! and three, this book is not for the faint of heart. It’s downright terrifying at times. Sometimes I could visualize what I was reading as if I was actually watching a horror movie. Other parts were funny in that dead-pan kind of way. It’s a bit odd, which I think makes it more scary at times.

• • • Vassa in the Night • • •

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 9.42.27 AMReleased: September 20, 2016
Pages: 296 pages (hardcover)
Theme(s): Self-discovery, honoring obligations, the strength of kindness, what makes someone somebody, compartmentalizing, dealing with grief
Genre(s): Young Adult / Urban Folklore / Fiction
Age Group: 12+

★★★★½

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…

*  ⁎   My Thoughts   ⁎ * 

I really love this book. It’s a lot of fun, very inventive in its world and plot, and provides a surprising lot to think about. Vassa in the Night is a journey of self-discovery masked as a survival story. I really like stories where characters learn more about themselves and where the magic fits neatly into the modern world.

While Vassa’s story seems to be incited by a random series of events that leads to her decision to go buy lightbulbs in the infamously dangerous convenience store, she (and readers tagging along for the ride) discover that her encounter with Babs was set in motion long before she ever needed lightbulbs. We all learn that about the people and actions that molded Vassa into the the person that she is and that she also needed help long before her life was in jeopardy.

At the beginning of the book, Babs tells Vassa that she owes her a debt that is “more than [she] owe[s] [her]self” (54). It comes off oddly at this point in the book, for it is a hint that Babs has some inexplicable knowledge about Vassa, despite that night being their first meeting. It also sticks out because it perplexes Vassa.

What did I borrow from myself and how on earth will I ever give it back?

At first, I thought that this moment was a hint at some larger universal lesson that may speak to readers. I was surprised to find it actually spoke more directly to an issue that Vassa has been avoiding and, in effect, has hides from us until the end of the novel. While Babs is the villain of this novel, but she’s also just a catalyst for a journey of self-discovery that Vassa doesn’t know she needs until she’s forced to face it.

There’s so much more I’d love to talk about in greater depth, but I don’t want to write a full-blown dissertation on this book! I will just say that there are so many more layers to this book that speak to what substance makes someone somebody, how satisfying dreams can be compared to reality, and the long-lasting effects of grief. And it’s beautifully written without trying too hard, ya know what I mean?

If this is really my last night and my last moments are jangling like coins in my pocket, then I might as well spend them on wishes.

 —✃ Craft  ✃—

Point of View • Vassa is the first-person narrator of the book, written primarily in present-tense. There are also short chapters interspersed throughout the book for the reader’s sake called interludes. They give some background information that Vassa wouldn’t have access to.

Setting The book almost entirely takes place in the dancing BY’s convenience store of Brooklyn in New York run by the witch Babs Yagg. While Vassa is trapped on the premises, she is able to escape only in her sleep on occasion shared with the motorcyclist who is also trapped and stuck circling the store perimeter during the long city nights. The store is held together with magic that makes it rotate in the sky and have a seemingly endless amount of space inside Bab’s private office, as Vassa discovers on a day-time quest to rescue her the motorcyclist and the two lawyers she sends in to surprise Babs.

Plot   After Vassa agrees to pay her “debt” to Babs with three nights of work in the store and demonstrate her character, she is given trials and tasks meant to spell her doom but which through seemingly complete chance end in her favor. But during these nights, she is also learning about the others who are drawn into BY’s orbit, including the henchmen, the unwilling “night guard”, and the bold, trouble-making teenagers.

Characterization  All the characters are written with clear and distinct voices that make them seem so real. Vassa who narrates the book has an easy-going sense of humor but also a detachment that makes her an interesting protagonist to follow. Erg, her doll, is wicked fun and very dramatic. In my head she had Kimmy Schmidt’s highly excited puppet voice. The lawyers (“attorneys at large”) were absurd and hilarious with their overly formal, professional speak.

Problems  Usually I find short chapters help to keep me turning the pages as I read, but for some reason after each one I felt like I should put the book down. That’s why it took me a little longer to finish this book than I thought I would. I also feel like the book suffers from not introducing Vassa’s mother issues earlier on. I think Vassa’s character development could have been more clearly delineated, but it got buried with the focus on the plights of other characters.

Similar Books 

Mr. Fox Shadow and Bone The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender
If you like beautiful, perplexing adult fiction tinged with horror and diversity… If you want to start a YA fantasy series inspired by Russian folklore… If you want to read a beautiful YA novel that follows a matriarchal family history…

 ❧ ☙ END NOTE ☙ ❧

I’m sorry this review is coming late this week, but I hope it was worth it. I also hope you liked the changes to the format. I think it’s more fun, useful, and readable. One of the problems that I always grapple with is writing too much, which I knooowwww is for my own benefit more than others’. I think I was able I capture most of what I wanted to say about Vassa in the Night.

Tomorrow I am aiming to release two blog posts (one in the a.m. and the other in the p.m.) following up on my blog hopping journey last month! The first will likely be some lessons I hope to remember and the second my long-awaited list of favorite blogs I discovered.

Have you read Vassa in the Night? If so, what’d you think?!

Thank you for reading!
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9 thoughts on “Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter | ★★★★½

    1. Lori

      Thanks! I actually settled on the format before I even finished rereading the book and was so excited to fill in the blanks! I’m so glad I decided to switch it up.

      It is a gorgeous book, isn’t it?! I hope I did it justice :,)

  1. Mariam

    It’s one of my all time favorites and hardly anyone ever talks about it. I’m so glad to see such a positive review of it ❤️

  2. Pingback: A New WIP | Novel Progress – Betwined Reads

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