“And, I suddenly understand, I do want to be Vassa–or technically I want to make Vassa into somebody worth being. The only way to become that somebody is to live in a real, substantial world: a world that doesn’t follow orders, that’s just as willful and independent as I’m going to be. I can only become a whole girl in a place that offers resistance; a place that makes me fight for what I want.“
Ugh! I’m so sad about this book. I was ready to love it, despite the mixed reviews surrounding it and the incredibly weird plot I had been hearing about. It was a Russian-inspired YA retelling of Vasilisa the Beautiful! Of course, I was going to like it! At least, that’s what I thought 😢
I feel like I should be eating a big ole’ plate of crow after this one, guys. I was so snooty about this book, thinking that other people just didn’t get it or couldn’t handle the weirdness or just weren’t familiar enough with the Russian aspects of it. But I told myself that of course, I’ll be fine. I’ll love it, because I know Russian literature and folklore. I gave Deathless 5 stars for God’s sake and that book was hella weird!
Unfortunately, as you can tell, I was quite wrong. I ended up agreeing with the majority of readers regarding Vassa in the Night. It was a beautifully written book (hence the two stars) that had the potential to be great, but it was too fucking bizarre. It was too short, too boring, too underdeveloped, and too convoluted. Honestly, it was a strange mix of flaws here, but all in all, it just flat out did not work. I was forcing myself to pick it up and read it every day and even then, I was moving so slowly. The book is not long and it still took me weeks to get through. I even skim-read the last 70 pages or so and it still such a slog. Like that is so telling right there. A book this short, a Russian inspired urban fantasy no less, should not be taking me that long to get through. It was ridiculous.
I can’t quite put my finger on what was so disagreeable about the book, but it must be the writing style, because it did have the makings of a story I would love. It just wasn’t executed well at all. It was like the writer was trying too hard to recreate this folk tale with her own modern flare to it, that it just came across as a big turn off. The writing itself was very pretty. The author can string sentences together with finesse and her use of vivid imagery was really nice. But the dialogue was very wooden. The actual coherence of the plot and the transitions between scenes and chapters was nonexistent.
Nothing at all made sense. I jumped into the story with a completely open mind and I took all the weirdness in stride, but that only works for so long before a reader needs something solid to anchor the story. It was like Porter just kept throwing stranger and stranger things into the story to spice it up, but there was no actual foundation for them to grow from. I didn’t care at all about the characters or the plot or what was going to happen next. I was just bored and increasingly more annoyed with the odd shit as the story went on. Maybe if this had been a short story instead and lasted for about one night in the BY, with a stronger ambiguous tone and atmosphere, it would have had the effect that Porter wanted. But even for a short novel, this one felt way too long.
I was also not a fan of the overall tone of the book. It couldn’t seem to decide what it wanted to be. Sometimes it read really lyrical and broad, other times it was childish and immature. It would go from being cutsey and dumb to really gory a page later. It was trying way too hard. In every category. Too hard to be edgy, too hard to sound like a fairytale, too hard to keep the reader guessing, too hard to make Vassa a sassy rebel chick. Like ugh she was super annoying. Oh yes, people tell me I’m beautiful all the time, but I wish I was uglier! I dyed my hair purple to make myself ugly! Girl, shut yo ass up. I gave zero shits about her. She was bland, she was “fake hard,” she was immature, she was kinda dense. Ew no thanks.
The other characters were no better. The sisters and Vassa’s mother felt like caricatures, the random boy was completely underdeveloped, Night was pointless, Erg was sooo stereotypical as the jaunty-snarky sidekick, the weird ass lawyers (a pangolin, really?) were just a waste of page space, and the Baba Yaga character was extremely disappointing as a villain. Just so superficial all around.
Honestly, the two stars come from the writing (taken as individual sentences and paragraphs, not the whole book) and the really pretty chapter art. I don’t know, I feel like based on my overall opinion and enjoyment of this novel, it should be a one star, but I do appreciate the craft of it. Some parts of it anyway. It was a decent idea and I would be open to reading something else from this author someday, maybe if she just hones her skills a little more and focuses on making us care about her story first, and the actual writing of it after.
What did you guys think? Do you agree with the masses like me??
Title: Vassa in the Night
Author: Sarah Porter
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy | Magical Realism | Russian Folklore | Retelling
Publication Date: September 20th, 2016
Page Count: 296
Buy It: Book Depository | Wordery