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Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Deathless (edition 2011)

by Catherynne M. Valente

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1,0915911,452 (4.01)97
Authors:Catherynne M. Valente
Info:Tor Books (2011), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 352 pages

Work details

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

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» See also 97 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
This is kind of a strange book. It’s set in Russia around the early to mid-1900’s, and it’s apparently heavily based on Russian fairy tales and myths, with real-world Russian history influencing how things unfold. The book itself reads like a fairy tale in both its tone and its content. I was really interested in it at the beginning, but then it got even stranger and the characters’ decisions became more and more unrelatable. In the end, I had mixed feelings about it.

The story is told primarily from the point of view of Marya. The first chapter opens up with Marya as a young girl sitting by a window, where she witnesses a bird falling out of a tree, turning into a man, and marrying her sister. Over the years this happens two more times until all three of her older sisters have been married to birds-turned-into-men and she’s waiting for the same to happen to her. There are some time jumps throughout the story as we’re told about one segment of Marya’s life before moving on to a later one.

This is in large part a love story, but the relationships are unhealthy and disturbing. As part of its fairy-tale-like structure, we’re told how this story always plays out, and then the story proceeds to play out more-or-less like it always does, taking away much of the suspense and adding frustration when the characters make stupid decisions because they’re supposed to make them. I never really connected with Marya at all, nor did I understand many of her feelings and decisions.

I was quite impressed with the author’s Orphan’s Tales duology, and I suspect this book was a clever re-interpretation of Russian stories that I might have appreciated more if I’d been more familiar with those stories. I also think some of it was just a bit too metaphorical for my brain to appreciate. I did think the story and characters were interesting and it was a quick read that held my attention, but not one I feel any great enthusiasm about. ( )
1 vote YouKneeK | Mar 10, 2019 |
Deathless offers a modern remix of Russian folktales that blends Russian-Soviet history with characters like Baba Yaga and Koschei the Deathless. Valente's book is absorbing in places, and I loved the repetition of motifs, though I sometimes thought the humor was misplaced or a little too gimmicky.

(There's more on my blog here.) ( )
  LizoksBooks | Dec 15, 2018 |
Impatiently waiting for the third novel in Katherine Arden’s Bear and the Nightingale series? This is just the thing to tide you over until it’s published, but Catherynne M. Valente’s novel is no mere stopgap. Indeed, it’s more of an experience than a book, bulging at the seams of its 350 pages. Valente reworks Russian folklore into a dark, dense and compelling narrative which skips in and out of tragic reality. Unlike Arden’s books, it’s also firmly adult, encompassing war, death and desire, while its folklore is the unbowdlerised kind, drenched in sex and blood. The curtain rises at the dawn of the 20th century, in St Petersburg, as the old order collapses, the boundaries between worlds grow thin, and a young girl receives an unexpected suitor...

For the full review, please see my blog:
https://theidlewoman.net/2018/04/06/deathless-catherynne-m-valente/ ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Nov 6, 2018 |
Deathless chewed up my heart--then, to make sure the heartbreak didn't become monotonous, switched up the narrative style and cut it into itty bitty pieces.

It's a beautiful story, and part of its allure comes from the fact that it's almost a hybrid poem/novel. The language is as stunning as the story is enthralling. Definitely recommend. ( )
  whatsmacksaid | Sep 21, 2018 |
Three stars for symbolism and gorgeous prose. I should have loved this, because I love fairy tales and mythology and I also find Russia and Russian history intriguing. Overall, I liked reading this book because it is well written, beautiful and haunting, but I couldn't connect with the story or the characters. ( )
  Vinjii | Apr 4, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 59 (next | show all)
Deathless performs the highest function of a problematic novel. It reveals more about the writer's technique and strengths than a polished, impregnable work might.
Another intricate fantasy from Valente, based on what feels like the entire panoply of Russian folktales. ...scenes, people, myths and history intertwine. It's dazzling but intensely self-involved.
added by melonbrawl | editKirkus Reviews (Feb 1, 2011)

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Catherynne M. Valenteprimary authorall editionscalculated
White, BethCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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From the year nineteen forty
I look out on everything as if from a high tower
As if bidding farewell
To that from which I long ago parted.
As if crossing myself
And descending beneath dark arches.
—Anna Akhmatova
For Dmitri,
who spirited me away from a dark place
First words
Woodsmoke hung heavy and golden on the shorn wheat, the earth bristling like an old, bald woman.
In a city by the sea which was once called St. Petersburg, then Petrograd, then Leningrad, then, much later, St. Petersburg again, there stood a long, thin house on a long, thin street. By a long, thin window, a child in a pale blue dress and pale green slippers waited for a bird to marry her.
“That's how you get deathless, volchitsa. Walk the same tale over and over, until you wear a groove in the world, until even if you vanished, the tale would keep turning, keep playing, like a phonograph, and you'd have to get up again, even with a bullet through your eye, to play your part and say your lines.”
The rapt pupil will be forgiven for assuming the Tsar of Death to be wicked and the Tsar of Life to be virtuous. Let the truth be told: There is no virtue anywhere. Life is sly and unscrupulous, a blackguard, wolfish, severe. In service to itself, it will commit any offence. So, too, is Death possessed of infinite strategies and a gaunt nature- but also mercy, also grace and tenderness. In his own country, Death can be kind.
Morality is more dependent on the state of one's stomach than of one's nation.
Death is not like that. [...] You will live as you live anywhere. With difficulty, and grief. Yes, you are dead. And I and my family and everyone, always, forever. All dead like stones. But what does it matter? You still have to go to work in the morning. You still have to live.
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Set in an alternate version of St. Petersburg in the first half of the twentieth century, Marya Morevna, a clever child of the revolution, is transformed into the beautiful bride of Koschei the Deathless, a menacing overlord.

(summary from another edition)

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