Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, or, A Book Where a Talking Doll Doesn't Scare the Heck Out of Me


Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
Pages: 296
Release Date: September 20th, 2016
Publisher: Tor Teen
Find: Goodreads | Amazon

Cover Comments: I'm utterly in love with this cover. The fonts, the red and black color scheme, and the symbolism of the city skyline, the swan, and the stars, all just fit the book so beautifully. One of my favorite covers, possibly ever.

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…


Vassa in the Night is one of the most entrancing and unique young adults novels I've read in quite some time, possibly years. I've been on a bit of a reading hiatus, but this book sucked me in immediately. Vassa in the Night is set in an alternate-reality Brooklyn in which magic is present, but ignored by most human residents. One alarming show of otherworldly presence in the "real" world is BY's, a convenience store that dances on chicken legs and beheads shoplifters, displaying their heads on spikes outside the store. When Vassa and her talking wooden doll, Erg, make a seemingly innocent trip to BY's, Vassa becomes ensnared in a magical world that seems to know more about her and Erg than she is expecting.

Vassa in the Night is a retelling of the Russian folk story Vasilisa the Beautiful. While reading the tale isn't necessary for enjoying the retelling, I would highly recommend it so you can catch some of the parallels and differences. The novel definitely has that dark fairy tale feel - more Brothers Grimm than Disney. The atmosphere of the novel was one of my favorite parts - mysterious and dangerous, but with moments of levity from the wooden doll, Erg or Vassa's sense of humor and snark. The task-oriented plotline at the beginning of the novel definitely stirred up more of that fairy tale/folk tale feeling as well, reminiscent of a quest or three-part adventure.

I loved the characters dominating the novel. I liked that Vassa wasn't constantly an optimistic and determined heroine; she really, really, really wanted to give up at times, but with the help of Erg and other side characters, continues on. Her sidekick Erg was hilarious and heart-warmingly loyal, but Vassa and Erg's relationship wasn't shallow, instead showing moments of doubt and ups and downs. The love between the doll and Vassa was definitely part of why they're my favorite relationship in the novel. There is a bit of romantic love action in Vassa as well, but it's hardly at center stage, and appropriately so. One of the elements of the book that I didn't enjoy or understand at first was the unlikely romance between Vassa and another character. There seemed to be little to no basis for it, which Vassa admits several times, but I just didn't buy it. However, after getting further into the book, it makes a little more sense. Without that background up front though, I still didn't much like that relationship.

The plotline definitely kept me interested, and twists and turns were surprising and, at times, shocking. This is one of those novels where at some points you can't tell what is real and what is just happening in Vassa's head. I would normally be a little frustrated by that, but it just added to the hazy and daydream-like feel of the entire novel, so I can't complain. I do wish some plotlines had been tied up a bit more, like things involving Vassa's father, but the foremost plot lines were finished off nicely.

My only caveat in recommending this book would be to readers who are squeamish - there is a good amount of decapitation and blood, and no description is spared. In sum, Vassa in the Night is a dazzling novel that made me cry, gasp, and feel my heart grow two sizes. I would recommend to anyone who likes dark fantasy, dancing convenience stores, or vivacious wooden dolls.


I received this book through OwlCrate, a monthly book subscription box. The review above is my honest opinion and I am not receiving any compensation for said review.

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