Welcome back to another mini review pairing! This time I'm reviewing and comparing two books that both have to do with the Russian folk lore story of Vassalissa. Before jumping into the reviews I wanted to put some history of the story of Vassalissa down to give people who haven't read anything about her a background. I also just find history to be potentially fun and interesting so I had to look her up. I found a lot of retellings, animations, images, and more about the fairy tale of Vassalissa but the one article that I could fully read in English was actually on a Wikipedia page and can be found here.
Now for the reviews!
First up: Vassa In The Night by Sarah Porter
I gave this book 3 Ergs to help us find our way.
In this version Vassa lives in Brooklyn with her two half sisters and stepmother of sorts. In Vassa's Brooklyn the night never seems to end and there's something strange going on at the grocery store down the road. The store chain, called [NAME], kills suspected shoplifters and displays their severed heads on posts out front to warn against the crime. The store also knows how to dance, is run by a witch and her two enchanted severed hands who help spy on customers to find the next victims. The story takes place over a few days/nights of Vassa being held prisoner of sorts in the store because of a suspected but unproven case of shoplifting and how she must free the magic of night to return the world to it's rightful way. Add in a lot of strange magic that at times doesn't make a lot of sense and you have a weirdly interesting story. The story itself was interesting enough for me to read the whole book, but it was a challenge to commit to finishing. The book has a lot of descriptive (sometimes beautifully and sometimes grotestcly) scenes which got my artsy brain interested, but the story itself just seemed a bit scattered. I know a good deal of people really enjoyed this one and parts of it I can see why, but over all it wasn't really the right fit for me personally.
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…
Published on 09/20/2016 by Tor Teen.
Page Count: 296
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Magical Realism, Retelling.
~~~~~~~~~~About the Author~~~~~~~~~~
I write stories that seem to me to be quite true enough for all practical purposes. Among them are VASSA IN THE NIGHT, THE LOST VOICES TRILOGY, and the forthcoming WHEN I CAST YOUR SHADOW and TENTACLE AND WING. Realism makes little sense to me and I experience more truth in the fantastic. I always have new novels underway, both Young Adult and Grownup/ Literary/ Speculative. When not writing my own weird stuff, I can often be found leading creative writing workshops with amazing young NYC public-school writers via Teachers & Writers Collaborative. Or I might be drawing, or gardening, or wandering wraith like through the streets. I live in Brooklyn, land of mystery, with my awesome husband Todd and our two cats, Jub Jub and Delphine. - from GoodReads.
Next up: The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
I gave this one 3 spirits in need.
This version strikes me as a more fanciful and traditional story. I really enjoyed the whimsical-ness of this story over the before mentioned version. Although this version did peak my interest a bit more in it's structuring of the story I couldn't help wanting more from the story. Either more story in general or just for it to flow a bit quicker. This book was lovely in it's building of backstory and talk of spirits whom silently help the mortal folk but I felt that there is so much more to this particular story. I did find out recently that this is only the first book in a series so that makes me a bit more understanding of the need for backstory and I do look forward to seeing what else comes from this particular version of Vassa's story. I had a hard time getting into the story in the beginning but the more I read the better it got. The story really picks up after the midway point and had me ready for more at the end. I will certainly be keeping an eye out of the next book in the series. I would recommend TBATN to any young adult, historical fiction fans out there.
At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.
After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.
And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.
As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.
Published on 01/10/2017 by Del Rey Books.
Page Count: 322
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy, Retelling.
*This is book one of the Winternight Trilogy, currently book two: The Girl in the Tower is set to be released in Dec. 2017*
~~~~~~~~~~About the Author~~~~~~~~~~
This is Katherine Arden's first book in the Winternight Triology. Arden's from Texas originally but spent time living in Russia, Maui, Texas, and the French Alps. She started writing TBATN while in Maui living next to a Russian family with a daughter named Vasillisa. If you have the chance check out her full about me section on her website (liked to her image above) for the full story of how TBATN came about.