Howdy, howdy! It’s the last Wednesday of February and we’ve pretty much thawed out here in Dallas (was around 80 yesterday). Anyway, it’s time for my last book review until the end of March. This time, I wanted something a little fantasy meets folklore, but something I’m not very familiar with (Russian folklore seemed like a good choice), so I decided to request Julie Mathison’s Vasilisa. It was released yesterday (February 23rd) from Mathison’s own imprint, Starr Creek Press. As usual, I must thank her and NetGalley for access to an ARC in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. Let’s get to it!
Vasilisa begins in 1919 in Edenfall, PA and follows our heroine (Vasilisa) as she struggles to come to terms with her father going missing in Flanders, a creepy suitor sniffing around her mother, her babka’s waning health, and learning who she can trust. Unfortunately, the answers to all of her troubles lie in Old Rus with the witch Baba Yaga. But Vasilisa doesn’t have to go alone when young Ivan appears by her side. Together, they set off on the adventure of a lifetime.
Plotwise, this one is a standard fairytale. There’s a maiden, a prince, some witches, a fairy godmother type character who happens to be Vasilisa’s grandmother, an ogre, a forest sprite, and even a dragon thrown in there for good measure. And that’s not even all of the fairytale stuff, just what I remember off the top of my head. Despite all of this, the story doesn’t feel cluttered or convoluted. It’s actually pretty impressive how much is crammed into this fairly short book (less than 250 pages) without making it a slog.
The pacing is quick. Sometimes a little too quick. Especially in the romantic development. It’s for younger readers, so I understand glancing over boring things, but it’s really weird how Vasilisa goes from not being sure she can trust Ivan to loving him in the span of a couple of pages without any real internal struggle. I think that’s due to the fact that a lot of this story is telling instead of showing. I’m not against that, but while it makes the story flow faster, it also makes it more difficult to express emotional growth within the characters. The POV probably also contributes to that.
As far as the characters go, they were a little flat, but still enjoyable. Vasilisa is basically the personification of kindness, which is a little boring if I’m being honest. She has zero flaws. She never does anything wrong except that one time she skips school to steal something from the bad dude in order to save her babka. It gets old fast. Ivan and Evelyn are better in that department. They at least have motivations that force them to straddle the line between right and wrong. Everyone else is pretty much a cardboard cutout of their fairytale roles.
The writing is clean and makes for a quick read. Sometimes I wanted more description, but it’s not bad. There’s nothing really special about it. No lines really jump out at me as quotable or memorable. But it’s smooth and works well for this story.
Ultimately, Vasilisa is not bad, but not great. The epilogue sets us up for book two, which I’m not opposed to reading, but I’ll probably forget this series even exists before it comes out. I’m not upset I read it. I don’t want those hours back or anything. It’s just kind of blah.
Overall, I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. If you enjoy fairytales and want something quick and cute to read, go for it. If you have a youngster who’s into this type of stuff, I can definitely see kids enjoying it. The story’s fun, it just fell short for me.