Raincoast has once again invited me to participate in one of their fantastic blog tours. Let me tell you guys — Vassa in the Night is a real weird, quirky, gem of a book, and I have to say that I really enjoyed my time reading it. If you don’t mind your fantasy novels being a bit unpredictable and a little crazy, then you need this book in your life.
As always, huge thank you to Raincoast for arranging the blog tour, sending me a copy of the book and being all round amazing people. Also huge thank you to Sarah Porter for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my Q&A question!
Title: Vassa in the Night
Author: Sarah Porter
Rating: ★★★★ 1/2
Synopsis: 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. . . .
Vassa in the Night is one of those books that sets a very distinctive tone for its readers right off the bat: in a world where dark magic encompasses Brooklyn, lives Vassa, a young woman who ends up on a quest for light bulbs, and ends up on an extraordinary journey to find home. In a lot of ways, many of us have read a story like Vassa in the Night before, but this book shines in a way that really captured my attention through start to finish.
First off, the world-building in this book is delightfully and vibrant. Porter does an amazing job illustrating Vassa’s world, the people who inhabit it, and provides so much vivid imagery of what surrounds Vassa in her adventures. Furthermore, the book has such fantastic characters who are wonderful to grow alongside with in the story. My personal favourite character was Erg, but I am a sucker for creepy talking dolls (in that they generally give me nightmares every time). But serious, Erg is funny, cheeky, and she gets some of the best lines in the whole story. She makes for a great companion to Vassa in the story, and I loved their relationship. I also adored Vassa as a character and thought she got a lot of great growth in the story, and she’s simply lovable, flaws and all.
I think the only thing I struggled with in terms of this novel was the ending. I felt the ending wrapped up everything a bit too conveniently, and found the ending didn’t have as strong a finish as I would have liked. However, I do love where the ending was going, the way it built up, and the way it was written. I think Sarah Porter has really wonderful ideas, and I do think her writing does a fantastic job reflecting a lot of where she wants her stories to go.
I loved my time with Vassa in the Night, and I am sad that my time with these characters and this world is over. While I don’t hope for a sequel, this is one of those books that I feel can be easily recommended for lovers of fantasy and retellings. I wish I had been more familiar with the story this was retelling, but I also loved how much I loved going into this story completely blind as well. Definitely check out Vassa in the Night, as it’s one of those standalone fantasy adventures that feels like a wonderful journey. Plus it’s weird and delightful, and crazy. Read this book.
Q&A With Sarah Porter!
Q: When you wrote Vassa in the Night, what were some of the aspects from the original tale that you intended to keep so that they would be recognizable to readers who loved the original story it’s based off of?
SP: Hi Sam, quite a few elements of the original story are in VASSA, though in altered ways.
Vassilissa is sent to the Baba Yaga’s hut to get fire, after her stepsisters
deliberately extinguish all the fire in the house; Vassa is sent to BY’s for light
bulbs. In “Vassilissa the Beautiful,” Night is a man all in black on a black horse;
in VASSA, Night rides a black motorcycle. A Baba Yaga’s hut is always surrounded by
human skulls on stakes, with one left empty, just for you; BY’s has severed human heads
encircling the parking lot. The animate hands are also in the original version, though
they don’t really have their own emotions and intentions the way that Dexter and
Sinister do. Vassilissa and Vassa are both given impossible tasks to do, and both are
helped by their magic dolls. So that’s quite a bit!
Some things in VASSA that don’t have a source in Russian folklore include the swans,
Picnic and Pangolin, the faerie party in Babs’s apartment, and a father who was turned
into a dog.
The Water of Life and the Water of Death became the Professor Pepper’s sodas; those
come from a different Russian fairytale, “Ivan, the Glowing Bird, and the Gray Wolf.”
Ivan’s brothers murder and dismember him out of envy, and the Gray Wolf uses the magic
waters to bring him back.
As always, huge huge love to Raincoast for allowing me to participate in this blog tour, and an equally large thank you to Sarah Porter for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer a question about her latest novel, Vassa in the Night. If you have any interest in retellings, particularly ones that don’t get reimagined very often, make sure you check out this book, which released on September 20th!
And while you are at it, please check out the other tour stops as they will also have snippets of the story, as well as more questions answered by Sarah!