August 30th, 2013


Book Review: Deathless, by Catherynne Valente

A Sovietized, reimagined Russian fairy tale that is almost but not quite an adult Fairyland book.


Tor, 2011, 352 pages

Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to Western European culture: a menacing, evil figure, the villain of countless stories that 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 20th 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.

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Verdict: This is not my favorite by Valente (those are still the Fairyland books), but Deathless shows her usual artistic genius in telling old fairy tales for a new age. Her brilliant imagination and an enviable talent for generating quotable prose make everything I've yet read by her worth reading, even if the word-bling and mad imagery can become thick to wade through at times.

Also by Catherynne Valente: My reviews of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, The Habitation of the Blessed, Silently and Very Fast.

My complete list of book reviews.