magical Slavic heritage

In celebration of my new Kindle Paperwhite, I pulled up the copy of Vassa and the Night by Sarah Porter that I had purchased some time ago to be my first read. Midway through the novel, my roommate passed through the living room and inquired after the book, to which I could only hesitantly reply that it was… okay.

51uv1l-tu2bl-_sy344_bo1204203200_Now, admittedly, I am not well-read in the subject of Russian folklore and fairy-tales. I only know a little bit of anything about Baba Yaga thanks to Hiyao Miyazaki’s excellent film, Spirited Away, which while fantastic is not a particularly in-depth look at Slavic mythology. Just a few minutes ago, I actually looked up the myth of Vasilisa the Beautiful on Wikipedia {I know, I know} to figure out how much of what I was reading was actually from the original tale. To this, I can say that Porter did an interesting job of recreating the elements of the myth and putting a modern spin to them, if a bit to literal about it in some fashions. But upon reflection, I feel like I had to read the myth to make sense of the story.

Vassa and the Night was not, by itself, a difficult story to follow. There were a few plot lines that seemed out of place or unnecessary, where when Porter drew them back together at the end of the novel it still felt disjointed. Yet, as a whole, I understood what the direction was as I read, unlike other books. Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is one that comes to mind as to this last point. But American Gods would be preferable to me over Vassa and the Night even in as directionless as it feels because the prose drew you into the world and made you curious. Vassa and the Night read like a young writer who was still trying to develop their ideas and the words to fit them. It is not a book I would recommend, not because it is bad, but because I have read better. Like The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

1101885939Similarly drawing inspiration from Vasilisa the Beautiful, The Bear and the Nightingale juxtaposed this story against a period of burgeoning Catholicism in Russian History. For me, this created an interesting discussion of the culture and history we neglect as we progress. I also feel like the questions I was left with after the novel were more satisfyingly open than the ones in Vassa and the Night. I didn’t need the myth to enjoy the story. The characters built themselves up enough to create the story rather than cling to the myth. The Bear and the Nightingale is easily a book I would give to other people to get lost in because you can. It paces itself well and incorporates small details gently where Vassa and the Night does not.

615wyteszyl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Another suitable novel if you’re looking for a little bit of Eastern European folklore to spice up your bookshelf is Naomi Novik’s Uprooted. Drawing from the same magical Slavic heritage, I would strongly recommend Uprooted as an adult fantasy option. Novak does justice to a rich culture often overlooked in favor of more Western fantasy. Both Uprooted and The Bear and the Nightingale create characters that have a depth you get to indulge in without being drowned, have romances you don’t need to roll your eyes at (God save me from teenie-bopper angst!), and worlds you only get to know enough to advance the stories. I can’t claim the same for Vassa and the Night. Don’t get me wrong. Porter tried. There was a lot of thought that went into the details. But thought and execution are two separate issues and Vassa and the Night needed a bit of time on the proverbial shelf for a more judicious eye to remember and revive.

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