Random Books and Coffee Reviews #4: Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
Welcome to the forth installment of Random Books and Coffee Reviews. Today I’ll be talking about a book I received from a monthly subscription box a while back. Seriously, those are wonderful was to get new books and it’s like a present every month. Plus, there could be other goodies added in like bookmarks, snacks, and other book-themed stuff depending on what subscription you choose and the month’s theme. I would highly recommend them and I’ll be reviewing plenty of books from subscription boxes I’ve gotten in the past. Anyway, onto the review.
The book is called Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter, and like my last review it’s a retelling of a classic tale. Unlike my last review this is a retelling of a Russian fairy tale “Vasilissa the Beautiful” set in modern-day New York. While I’m not well versed in Russian fairytales, I thoroughly enjoyed the story, grateful I was able to get a copy in my subscription box.
The story is an urban fantasy surrounding a girl, Vassa, who lives with her stepmother and sisters in Brooklyn where the nights are getting longer for a mysterious reason. The relationship with her sisters is complicated, made more so by her enchanted wooden doll Erg constantly stealing from them and getting Vassa in trouble for it. Vassa is sent out on a deadly mission to get lightbulbs as a convenience store, BY, is the only one open at night and is known for beheading shoplifters and perhaps others for pure entertainment. Accused of stealing, either due to Erg stealing a candy bar or having one planted in her pocket by one of two disembodied hands, Vassa is able to keep her head thanks to a loophole in the punishment logic. With the help of Erg, Vassa must last living inside BY and working for three magically long nights. In addition, Babs throws impossible tasks in order to get Vassa to slip up as well as a mysterious figure circling around the store piquing her interest.
Now for the positives while I still have coffee.
The writing reflects the magical atmosphere going on in the story with great descriptions and a narrator just as lost in the fantastical convenience store as the reader is. The story’s plot is full of twists and turns of magical wonder and nail-biting events along with fantastical characters of human and non-human varieties. The emotional impacts are built up from the beginning and have a feels-worthy crescendo that’ll have you clutching the nearest fluffy item. Just make sure it’s not your cat, for your own safety. (Spoiler: I danced the No Unnecessary Romance Dance at the end End Spoiler).
Vassa herself is an introverted, snarky character who cares deeply for her sisters despite the complex relationship she has with them as well as her wooden doll Erg. Erg is a sassy kleptomaniac but her heart is in the right place regarding Vassa, although she has a sadistic streak with a bottomless stomach. Older step-sister Chelsea is a mother figure to the girls as the step-mom doesn’t really do much in the story. Stephane is the half-sister who seems to hate Vassa, enough to send her to BYs where she might be killed. I should note that Chelsea and Stephane have same mother, Stephane and Vassa have same father. Babs, the Baba Yaga of the story, is a convenience store owner of regular and odd things who is (spoiler) stealing pieces of Night and placing them in a mannequin of a motorcycle and its rider (end spoiler). She looks frail but is stronger than she looks, appears as an old senile woman, sadistic, doesn’t care about human life. Babs has two disembodied hands who work for her: Dexter and Sinister, show care for each other and devotion to Babs
Although I can’t make a definite case for Easter eggs in the story as I am not familiar with Russian folk tales, those who are unfamiliar with these stories won’t be isolated and I’m sure those who are will find things that the recognize.
I hate to admit that I struggled with the way the story was written early on in book. While the writing is good it is a bit surreal at times, which had me getting lost in places. I felt like the story only needed to have a bit more of a ground in reality, perhaps a news report in the paper or on TV to show how the world treats magic to keep readers engaged from the beginning without giving up due to the confusing abstract concept.
In spite of this, the book is a roller-coaster of emotions, magic, and humor to the very end. If the issues with the beginning didn’t scare you away then I’d recommend getting a sample from your ebook provider or go to your local library to see if its available or download a library app to borrow the book, read the first few chapters, and decide if its right for you.
The next book I’ll be reviewing is going to be from a writer whose humor and artwork I admire. I was able to get her blessing for the review and I will be posting a link to the website where I follow her work before or after the review and I hope I can do it justice.
- Rating: 4 out of 5 Coffee Cups
- Recommended for: Russian fairy tale lovers, readers looking for unique read, fan of urban fantasy,
- Coffee Recommendation: European blend, dark roast, something bold and strong, semi-sweet.
Before I go, I have a quick question: are there any coffees you’d like me to review sometime? Feel like I need to expand my tastes a bit and would like to eventually do coffee reviews as well. I already ordered a specific coffee I’d like to review, so if I’m comfortable with how it turns out I’ll post my first coffee review before the next book review.