Series: Leningrad Diptych #1
Published by Tor on March 29, 2011
Genres: Adult, Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy & Magic, Historical
Source: Personal Copy
Sexual Content: brief sex scenes
Reviewed by: Rebecca
Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.
Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.
DEATHLESS is a book you need to read with a strong cup of tea. It’s dark, lyrical, and makes you feel the cold of a Russian winter. DEATHLESS is a complicated book, filled with complex characters who allow themselves to be puppeted. They know that they’re archetypes, myths retold over and over. They have a role to play and they will play it, regardless of the cost.
DEATHLESS is written like a fairytale. Events occurs in series of three, each progressing from benign to extraordinary. The poetic repetition is lovely but can grate after a while. As the Tsar of Life, Koschei’s world was terrifying, almost crueler than death (because, after all, life sometimes is). The houses are made of skin. The fountains bleed. Those are all elements of life. Marya Morevna is not the first mortal Koschei has seduced, but she is the first Marya. Like all fairy tales, there are cautions and rules. Before marriage, Marya needs to prove herself worthy and is issued a series of impossible tasks from Baba Yaga.
Although the book is beautifully written, I never fully connected with the material. I wanted Marya to choose a world, whether it was life or death, real or magic. I wanted more of either the Russian revolution or the endless war between Life and Death. There wasn’t enough room in the novel for both. As someone who only knows a handful of Russian folktales and knows very little about the Russian revolution and communism, a lot of the book’s finer details went over my head. A reader with better historical knowledge will likely glean more insight from Marya’s trials.
Communism, war, starvation, riches, and want are written into both the magical world and the real world. But, like Marya, DEATHLESS is straddled between both, never quite belonging to either.Series Titles: