Morning mortals! Today’s book review is for a book which I feel as though I have had on my TBR for ages! Back when I was at the start of this book blogging journey Vassa in the Night called to me from people’s shelves (was it a Fairyloot book one time? That might explain it?). I even wrote a W2RW post about reading it WAAAY back when. So when this book dropped into my lap on a fateful Christmas morn it certainly felt like it had been a long time coming! Almost a year on from that original W2RW post here we are with a review.
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…
This book is, as it says above, a retelling of the story of Vasilisa the Beautiful. I don’t know the fairytale particularly well, but Russian folklore and Baba Yaga herself have tiptoed in and out of enough of my reads over the years that I have a bit of a handle on the basics. It’s part of what intrigued me about this book, along with the idea of what an ‘enchanted kingdom of Brooklyn’ might look like.
There are some excellent elements to this book. The idea of the nights growing longer, but not in the way you’d expect, intrigued me and was pulled off very well (in my opinion at least). Similarly, I enjoyed the way that Baba Yaga’s famous chicken-legged house became a terrifying convenience store. It was a clever twist on the well known elements of the story.
Having looked up the actual story of Vasilisa the beautiful I can see all of the references the author was making to the original text, if you’re wondering about reading this I would suggest at the very least wikipedia-ing the story because I was a little confused as to what was going on at times. With the framework of the original fable behind it this story makes a lot more sense and the progression of events reads more coherently.
I did enjoy most of the aspects of this story, the writing is descriptive – without being too flowery, the setting is interesting and the plot is compelling. What stopped me from loving this book as much as I wanted to was the characterization of pretty much all the characters. It’s not that there isn’t any, I just felt like they were a little bit lacking. For instance I didn’t feel like I fully understood any of Vassa’s motivations for her actions, it seemed to me like she just acted for the sake of the story rather than for any character based reason. It’s similar with some other characters but it stuck out most for me with the protagonist.
I suspect, however, that may be part of the inspiration for the story. Folklore is often not rich in characterization because it’s designed to convey a message or moral rather than to be interesting storytelling. I mean think about it, Cinderella has very little meat to her character beyond just being perfect, it’s similar in this instance. That’s not to say more character couldn’t have been added for the sake of the novelization?
Ah it’s a tricky one, it always is with Christmas books because you don’t want the gift giver to think they’ve not got you something you like. I did have a great time reading this book while I digested my Christmas dinner. It’s certainly different from a lot of other books I’ve read and I enjoyed the avenues into Russian folklore it’s opened up for me, it just wasn’t quite as compelling as some of the other books I’ve read with similar inspirations.
My rating: 3/5 stars
What say you? Is this book already on your shelf? Let me know in the comments below!