Title: Vassa in the Night
Author: Sarah Porter
Date Added: October 15, 2016
Date Started: January 25, 2017
Date DNF: February 8, 2017
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…
The fact I didn’t finish this book proves that I don’t like every story with a dead mother paradigm. God. Damn. That sounds super cynical, but usually that’s my kryptonite for sympathizing with a character, and it usually holds my interest throughout any tale.
Vassa in the Night is based on the Russian fairy tale “Vassalisa the Beautiful,” a story I’ve never read, but I surmise it’s their version of Cinderella. I’m still interested in reading the original source even if an offshoot didn’t hold my attention. What drew me to it in the first place was the emphasis on the personification of “night,” and the prologue seems to promise that this will be a prevalent plot point. I love when abstract concepts are incarnated into entities with (free) will, but the snippet at the beginning was probably supposed to tide the reader over until later.
I think Vassa fell flat for me because I was expecting a story more like Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, and instead I got an urban fantasy (as opposed to a Helprin’s novel, which is more magical realism). UF is probably my least favorite subsection of the fantasy genre. I just don’t have much interest in reading about established, mundane cities regardless if you slather a veneer of magic over their grime, and holy shit…I just realized that FFVII could arguably be considered (among other things) an urban fantasy especially considering Midgar is supposed to be an analogue of New York, so I’m totally talking out of my ass. Let me attempt to mitigate.
FFVII only takes place in Midgar in the first part, and Winter’s Tale occurs in NYC (too), but it’s a version of the city that I lovingly refer to as mythopoetic New York with it’s magical realism and mystical cloud wall (not FFVII affiliated). Winter’s makes New York magical, pulling it more into a fantasy realm rather than attributing some fantasy characteristics to a decaying, filthy husk. While I love the dark and gothic, I’m less of a fan of the mundane and gritty. FFVII does something similar in one, Midgar is based on NYC, it isn’t the city itself; two, it’s name comes from Norse mythology and the city is literally powered by the energy of stolen souls; three, it’s the seat of the corrupt power the main characters are fighting against; and four, the setting of the game consists of much more than that filthy, depressive city. I love magical cities (I even have plans/notes to write about one), but I’m not really fond of magic in mundane cities unless it’s magical realism.
So Vassa didn’t really keep my attention for very long. I found Erg, the doll her mother bequeathed her, annoying, whiny, and not worth the trouble she caused (maybe she becomes useful and worthwhile later in the story; I obviously couldn’t say, but I’m assuming this must be the case). In the book’s defense, several reviews on Goodreads did state that you either fall in love with it immediately or you hate it. It seems to be more beloved by the weird, of which I count myself amongst, but everyone’s weird is different, and my weird isn’t a huge fan of urban fantasy, which may be a prerequisite for enjoying this novel, and to add icing to the tombstone, this could be considered young adult, as well.
No rating. I generally don’t rate books I don’t finish, and I also don’t think it’s fair to rate something that it’s a genre I know I don’t enjoy. It would be similar to me rating an FPS game or giving an assessment of a sporting event. Just because one doesn’t like a particular genre or activity it doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile, and I feel it’s important to recognize that.