A glorious retelling of the Russian folktale Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless from Catherynne M. Valente, set in a mysterious version of St. Petersburg during the first half of the 20th century
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.
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Twentieth-century Russian history provides a background for Valente's lush reimagining of folkloric villain Koschei the Deathless and his dalliance with Marya Morevna, a clever but troubled young woman. After Koschei sweeps Marya away from her family's home in St. Petersburg-Petrograd-Leningrad, Baba Yaga assigns her three tasks that will make her worthy of marrying Koschei. As she spends more time in Koschei's Country of Life, Marya starts to become too much like her unearthly lover, until na ve Ivan Nikolayevich helps her regain her humanity (as well as the sympathy of the reader). Valente's lush language and imagery add to the magic and fundamentally Russian nature of the story, drawing pointed parallels between the Soviet Union's turmoil and the endless war between Koschei and his brother, Viy. Readers used to the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault will find this tale peculiar but enchanting.
Customer ReviewsSee All
I started reading this book on account of a wonderful friend and writing partner from Australia to tell me of it, as we were incorporating some of these themes in imaginative roleplay fictions of our own storytelling. He only wished me to read the first 4-5 chapters so I could get the gist of the story, but I found that I could not put it down.
When I drew near the end of the book, rounding to the last two chapters, I became rather forlorn because I didn’t wish for it to end! That’s what a good book does to you. It drinks you in, pulls you near like that of a mother does her child. It makes you want to read it over again so you can see Marya in her youth when she is first courted by Koschei the Deathless.
I am so glad I got the opportunity to read this, and more than likely I shall read it once more after I’m onto the next. Such a marvelous read that is full of life AND death!