Deathless

This retelling of a Russian folk story (352 pages) was published in March of 2011 by Tor Books. The book takes you to revolutionary and WWII Russia. Melissa read Deathless and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

Deathless

Catherynne M. Valente

European fairytales are populated by wicked witches and evil giants. But Russian folklore has Koschei the Deathless, an immortal man — as elegant as he is evil — who woos and destroys young women.

This imaginative retelling of the legend sets the tale against the dramatic events of the 20th-century: the Russian Revolution, Stalinism, the siege of Leningrad, and the rise of modern Communism.

But that authentic history is sprinkled liberally with magic dust.

As we grow to care about our heroine Marya, we also meet bewitched birds that turn into men, house gnomes known as domovoy, a guardian of the forest named Leshi, the beautiful fairy Vila, and Baba Yaga herself. In this world, Tsars and Tsarinas rule the seven aspects of reality: life, death, salt, night, water, birds, and the length of an hour.

Desperate for a life filled with romance, Marya trades the reality she knows for the promise of Koschei’s kiss, and she pays a very high price.

The whimsy and poetry of Valente’s prose can make your heart soar — just before it breaks that same heart into bits with dark turns of the tale. As Baba Yaga reminds us, ‘Tscha! Life is like that.’

Just you wait. Papa Koschei is coming, coming, coming, over the hills on his red horse and he’s got bells on his boots and a ring in his poket and he knows your name, Marya Morevna. — Catherynne M. Valente

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