Vassa in the Night by Sarah Porter is a completely magical and bizarre retelling of Russian folklore. Seriously, it was just about the weirdest thing ever. But in a good way! Just toss out your black-and-white-logical-brain because when it comes to fairy tales you need to be prepared for the weird and wacky. Especially for Russian folklore! We have houses on chicken legs and talking dolls and body-less-hands gallivanting around. It’s magical realism at its finest!
I’m a big fan of Russian folklore and I recently read Deathless which definitely prepared me for what Vassa in the Night would be like. Although this book isn’t actually set in Russia. It’s set in Brooklyn, USA, which was a teeny bit disappointing because I love being transported overseas. But the amazingness of the story definitely made up for this failed expectation.
Basically it’s the story of Vassa who is living with her step-sisters and feels very alone in the world. She lives in a city where people know there’s magic, but don’t always acknowledge it. The nights are getting longer (which means a minute might actually be…a day) and there is an insanely creepy stare run by Babs who beheads shoplifters. Vassa accidentally ends up being hired by the witchy Babs and must survive the next 3 days working in the store where body-less hands patrol and the money tries to run away — or else DEATH.
I quite enjoyed reading about Vassa! She was pretty snarky but still kind of adorable and venerable which is a winning combination and made it easy to root for her. Most of the time she just rolled with it when the world was going insane. She also has a magical talking doll that was gifted to her by her mother right before she died. The talking doll, Erg, eats and eats and eats and is also a kleptomaniac. But she’s the only true friend Vassa has.
The magical realism element is definitely my favourite. I love magic and I loved how it fit seamlessly into this world. I mean we have a shop that beheads shoplifters and people turning into swans and, oh, don’t let me forget that the Night got trapped inside a motorcyclist. And the crazy elements of the magic totally made my day. Particularly the stretching of time! And how people could appear covered in scales and everyone just went with it.
Chelsea snorts with disbelief, clamps an arm around my shoulders, and starts hustling me towards the street. “Tomorrow you can send the owner a note explaining everything. Say that you’re terribly sorry but your family refuses to let you work for a serial killer. Blame me if you want. Oh, my sister’s so overprotective! She just wouldn’t listen when I told her dismembering people doesn’t bother me!”
The Russian retelling element is definitely a big reason why I wanted to read it. It’s specifically a retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful who, in the original, gets stuck in the witch Baba Yaga’s home and must complete three impossible tasks (with the help of her magic doll) before she’s allowed to go free. I loved seeing how the original elements were woven into this. So clever! And so unique!
Plus the story also has some severely creeptastic moments, which should make your skin crawl. Truly delightful.
This is definitely an ethereal, bizarre specimen of a fairy tale retelling and I totally recommend it! I half wish had been a little darker all the way through, instead of piling the creepy moments up at the end. But it was beautifully written, exciting, and totally unique. Also you can take away the very important message that: SHOPPING KILLS. We should all just stay home and order things online, honestly. Less risk of being beheaded by a witch or turned into a swan.