Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter
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…
I….uh…I don’t really know how to rate this one, so I guess I’ll settle for three stars.
Vassa in the Night reads like one of those dark, grim (see what I did there) fairy tales where the prince doesn’t quite get to the princess in time and so she’s eaten alive by a dragon. Only instead of a medieval or fantasy world, it’s set in a part of Brooklyn that has managed to escape gentrification. A place where night lasts longer than it should, dolls can talk, and the local super market mounts the heads of shop lifters on spikes outside its doors.
Intrigued? Well, why not. This is magical realism at its finest.
There were a lot of things to like about this book. The prose is lyrical, the story (based on the Russian folktale ‘Vassilissa the Beautiful’) is imaginative and complex, and the characters are richly developed and painted in various shades of gray.
This book is definitely not for everyone, however. You can’t half-ass it. You REALLY need to pay attention when you read it. Thanks to the heavy use of metaphor and Alice in Wonderland style weirdness, I can see a lot of people struggling to keep track of it all.
My struggles came with the MC, Vassa, who would do things like think, “How stupid would you have to be to step through this door into an obvious trap?” and then proceed to step through said door. And also with the romantic aspect of it and the slow unraveling of sense.
I mean, it’s an old school style fairy tale. It’s supposed to be weird, but the book started to lose me a little when the equivilant of this happened:
Overall, I did enjoy most of this book, but I really hesitate to recommend it to anyone.