“‘You couldn’t have gotten away, Vassa. Even if you thought for a second that you were getting out, it wouldn’t really have been true. You made a deal, and now you have to stay. Okay? Don’t try that again!’ She nuzzles me. ‘Can I have my hot dog now?’”
I’m going to start this off by saying that this is the strangest book I’ve ever read. From the dismembered hands that were Vassa’s coworkers to a convenience store in modern Brooklyn that beheads thieves, this book was weird.
Vassa in the Night is based on the Russian folktale ‘Vassilissa the Beautiful.’ Before I read this book, I saw a review that recommended reading the original first, so I did. You can find a PDF online. Reading the original did help me to understand the main plot of the story, which I probably would not have understood as well without reading it.
As you might have assumed, the main character of this story’s name is Vassa. Vassa lives in the ‘enchanted Kingdom of Brooklyn’ with her two step-sisters and step-mom. I know what you’re thinking: evil step-sisters with evil step-mom, but that’s not really the case. Vassa’s step-mom is barely in the story and she had a good relationship with one of her sisters.
Anyway, in Brooklyn the nights have become absurdly long, where sometimes a night can feel like a few days, the minutes going by at an excruciating pace. When Vassa’s mother died, she gave Vassa a magical doll named Erg. Erg is kind of a pain in the butt and gets Vassa into trouble a lot (her sisters think she’s a kleptomaniac because of this), but Vassa promised her mother that she’d take care of the doll. So Vassa feeds Erg and takes her everywhere she goes. One night, all the lightbulbs go out at Vassa’s house, so she goes to the only convenience store open in the middle of the night, which happens to be the one that decapitates thieves. There’s a bit of a mix up at the store and Vassa ends up working there with the threat of decapitation still hanging over her head. Throughout Vassa’s time at the convenience store, she discovers secrets coming back from the past while making new friends and discovering things about herself.
What I liked:
The characters: Vassa, Erg, and the motorcyclist.
Vassa’s character development throughout this book is AWESOME. I can’t really discuss it in detail because no spoilers, but she grows a lot in a span of three nights. She also has a really cool personality and her relationship with Erg is hilarious.
Then there’s Erg, of course. Erg is hilarious. The quote I started this review off with is from Erg. It’s evident how much she cares about Vassa and would do anything for her, as we see throughout the novel. And then she’s obsessed with food which is very relatable. I never thought I could relate so much to a magic doll.
Ah, the motorcyclist. I don’t even know where to start with him because he is strange. He is a guy who ‘guards’ the convenience store by riding around it on a motorcycle. He doesn’t talk or act as if he is listening, but he still has his ways of communicating. I have to say that he is the most unique character I have ever encountered.
I also loved the weirdness of this book. It definitely managed to take me out of my comfort zone. A few things that top the weird board: Vassa’s father deciding he wants to become a dog. A shop that decapitates thieves and everyone acting as if it is normal. Hands that work as employees. Erg. The lawyers where one looks like a rat and the other has scales. The motorcyclist. Long nights. And more.
The swans. There is a flock of swans that follows Vassa around and they are truly the best. They help her out with little things and, ugh, I just love them, you’ll see. There is a quote where Vassa talks about being alone and then her flock shows up. Then she remembers that her swans are always with her. And I love that quote. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it.
What I didn’t like:
Okay, so there were a lot of things I liked about this, but there were somethings that didn’t work for me.
The interludes. Throughout the book, there are six or seven interludes where it switches to someone else’s POV and goes to an event a few years back. Where some of these were quite informing, some did not make sense at all. These just managed to confuse me even more, and it was really frustrating.
Vassa’s dreams. It was difficult to determine when Vassa was dreaming. She would be like “Oh, I’m walking around the store—AND THEN I FALL OUT THE WINDOW AND FLY AWAY WITH THE MOTORCYLIST HAHA.” Except it would happen much more naturally than that and it was hard to determine if she was dreaming or not since she was walking around the store or doing something that people tend to do when they’re awake.
Also the convenience store itself confused me a bit. It was just that I had a difficult time picturing it. She said that it was constantly moving and that it dropped whenever someone entered. Maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t picture it.
Weird=normal. Okay, so people were like “Oh, the nights are lasting six days? Whatever, nothing we can do about it,” which is okay I guess. But then they’re also okay with a store that beheads thieves and leaves their heads on spikes in the parking lot. Okay? More like not okay. As mentioned earlier, a lot of strange things happen and Vassa never seems too concerned about them, and it’s never specified whether people deciding to become dogs is a normal thing or not.
Going off of that, there was not a lot of world building. Does night last days everywhere? Or is it just Brooklyn? Is magic a commonly accepted concept? The world may never know.
If you can ignore those few things, the book is really fun to read and will definitely make you take a step outside of your comfort zone.