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Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

Deathless (edition 2012)

by Catherynne M. Valente

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6774014,123 (4.06)72
Authors:Catherynne M. Valente
Info:Tor Books (2012), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 352 pages
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Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente


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Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
A lot of "retellings" end up reading like historical fiction or magical realism, which is all well and good when one is in the mood for that. So what I liked most about Deathless was how it read like a novel-length fairy tale. Sure, it took place during modern times - Russia during the 1920s to 1950s - but overall I felt as if I was reading a fairy tale being retold by a contemporary storyteller as opposed to historical fantasy inspired by a fairy tale.

Valente faithfully followed the plot of "The Death of Koschei the Deathless" and "Marya Morevna" tales whilst simultaneously breathing new life into their flat characters, choices and world. I also loved how Valente incorporated and mashed up other Slavic folklore including Baba Yaga, rusalka, domovoi, and vila into her version of Koschei and Marya.

However, calling this story "tragic" would be an understatement. Consider yourself warned: you will not find warm fuzzies here. Its mood tended toward melancholy with wistful characters making somber choices, and the "love" story (or stories) with the exploration of freewill, domination, submission, trust, marriage, death... had me completely conflicted. I'll certainly be thinking about Koschei, Marya and Ivan for a long time to come.

4 stars

My first Valente, and I look forward to reading The Orphan's Tales in the near future.

Note: I read the following versions of the "original" tales in preparation for, and prior to, reading Deathless:

"The Death of Koschei the Deathless" from The Red Fairy Book
"Marya Morevna" from Russian Fairy Tales
"Koshchei the Deathles"s from Russian Fairy Tales
"Marya Morevna" from Russian Wonder Tales ( )
  flying_monkeys | May 4, 2015 |
Cory Doctorow has a little blurb on the front of the book that says "Deathless is beautiful." It is beautiful, so beautifully written that at times it is spellbinding. It is also so very Russian as to be almost incomprehensible to this American. Life is torment. Love is torment. Torment is part of the beauty of it all. Whew. I was definitely born in the right country. That's too much for me. ( )
  Citizenjoyce | Nov 3, 2014 |
I was drawn to this book by the beautiful cover, and the fact that Lev Grossman describes the author as 'the Ray Bradbury of her generation'. Ray Bradbury is a wonderful writer, and The Martian Chronicles one of the most beautifully poetic books I know. I simply had to buy it. At the desk in the Oxfam Bookshop, Strutton Ground the young volunteer enthusiastically recommended it. We had a happy chat about Bradbury, and I went back to work with my new book.
Deathless essentially tells the bloody and heartrending story of Russia in the early 20th century as if it were a Russian folk tale. Marya Morevna, a child in her family's house, looks out of the window and sees a bird fall from a tree. When it lands, it ibecomes a handsome young man who knocks at the door to ask for the hand of the girl at the window. Her mother, of course, introduces her eldest daughter, and they are married. This happens with the second bird, and the second daughter as well, but the third time Marya is distracted and does not see what manner of bird her suitor is. This is a big mistake. Marya's fate is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, and her own life will not be an easy one with him.
The tale of Marya and Koschei, and the endless war against his brother, the Tsar of Death, is full of sorrow, fierce love, and death. It is also the story of the fate of Russia facing injustice, war, death and starvation. I found it helpful to have some knowledge of the shape of Russian folk tales (if only via Old Peter's Russian Tales!), and their brave, clever heroines who outwit the malign forces that try to trip them up. Marya is one of these heroines, she endures and suffers, but she is not conquered.
The writing is a wonder, the concept thrilling. This is the best book I have read this year. ( )
  Goldengrove | Oct 25, 2014 |
It's a fairy tale.

A dark, forbidding, old fairy tale.

Dangerous and enthralling and magical.

And wonderful. ( )
  PaperCrystals | Aug 14, 2014 |
I usually don't enjoy the stories of reworked or recombined fairytales all that much--often they feel somewhat contrived, like there's components shoved in just because they're supposed to be there. But here, though I did recognize quite a lot of characters and plots from various Russian fairytales (as luck would have it, turns out that I'd just read a bunch of 'em, though I didn't realize on starting this book that it was based on folklore)--the story was still very much its own thing, the characters seeming to belong wholly to the world created in this book, rather than just a bunch of people thrown into a series of stitched-together scenes. Honestly, though it's always wonderful to feel that recognition when one comes upon a familiar detail or idea, I think this book would be equally enjoyable to someone who wasn't well-versed in fairy tales. This story has a life of its own. ( )
  -sunny- | Jul 15, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (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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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.
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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.

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