There’s something inherently creepy about classic fairy tales. I think that’s why I love them so much!
In Vassa in the Night, by Sarah Porter , I got to read a modern version of Vasilisa the Beautiful, a Russian fairy tale that is not only dark, creepy, magical and fun but it’s now also set in Brooklyn. And enchanted Brooklyn is really similar to the real thing, except for the part that the nights seem to drag on forever, there’s a convenience store that beheads thieves and there are magical creatures living in the shadows. Vassa is also an almost-normal-sixteen-year-old girl, but she likes to carry her talking wooden doll everywhere and feed her in exchange of favors.
- The real folktale feeling. Holy Cow! This book certainly has a Russian fairy tale vibe. And I’m not talking about Disney-esque fairy tales (which I also love), I mean Brothers Grimm dark, gory stories. I loved the main villain as she’s a famous witch from Slavic folklore*. I loved the weird talking animals, witty dolls and whimsical scenarios involving chatting with the Night. And while I know that this kind of eerie fantasy is not for everyone, I truly enjoyed it.
- Great take on The hero’s journey. Have you noticed how hundreds of stories focus on the protagonist following The Hero’s Journey? I bet you have. At the beginning they just want to keep their normal life, then something supernatural happens, they travel, solve it and then go home. The problem is that most of the time the hero goes home without a transformation. They face the biggest adventure of their life and that doesn’t change them at all! What I liked about Vassa is that she learned a lot, she grew up and she had to make sacrifices. It felt like one of those old stories that always tried to teach you morals (but in a fun way).
- Vivid descriptions. I swear the descriptions where so enchanting that I could not take the book out of my head. Halfway through it I had to visit a convenience store and a part of my mind kept checking the aisles for an old witch or a severed head on a spike.**
*If you want to know which witch I’m talking about, check this Wikipedia article. ** This is a real story. I already had a protein bar in my hand and the cashier wouldn’t appear. I was sure she was expecting me to steal something so she could chop off my head.
- A couple of interludes***. Every five or six chapters there’s a mini chapter called ‘Interlude’ that shows some flashbacks related to the events that are going on in the present. They all feature a magical being or magical event that is somehow related to the main story. And while I found them interesting, they sometimes felt a little out of tone, written in a different voice and featuring unknown characters. I’m also not a fan of the “Five Years Before” or similar flashbacks that try to show me how things got to be like this or that. I prefer good old chronological order.
*** The interludes didn’t bother me that much. I actually liked most of them but since that’s the only thing that I barely disliked, I felt like I had to mention it.
- You like Grimm’s fairy tales.
- You enjoy urban fantasy books.
- You enjoy the creepy/weird side of fantasy (like talking animals, walking buildings and living disembodied body parts).
- You are interested in Russian folktales.