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Deathless Paperback – February 14, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 83 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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 naïve 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. (Apr.)
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“For fans of Neil Gaiman, Gregory Maguire, and the like, this is essential.” ―Library Journal, starred review

“Romantic and blood-streaked, and infused with magic so real you can feel it on your fingertips―Deathless is beautiful.” ―Cory Doctorow, bestselling author of Little Brother

“Stories, unlike people, don't stay dead forever, or not always. They can live again―but only under very special circumstances. They must be revived by the miraculous touch of a very rare class of being, a kind of multi-classed genius/scholar/saint, who can restore them to life. Catherynne Valente is such a being.” ―Lev Grossman, bestselling author of The Magicians, on Ventriloquism

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books (February 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765326310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765326317
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tim Westover on May 29, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I thought that I would be an ideal reader for Catherynne Valente's Deathless, her 2011 work of magical realism and Russian folklore. I'm familiar with most of the folk tales and practices on which her work is based. I've taken courses on Russian literature and history and toured both Moscow and St. Petersburg extensively. I speak enough Russian to understand the references (not quite puns) in the character and geographic names. But all of this, I've found, actually makes me less than an ideal reader for Deathless -- my dilettantish dabbling into various parts of Russian culture leaves me equipped with neither of the frameworks I could use to appreciate the novel.

If I weren't familiar with the source material, I would be more awed by the strangeness of Valente's work and the striking images she presents -- a world of eggs, feathers, huts with chicken legs, galloping pestles, magical villages, and house spirits. Valente casts these elements into beautiful English prose, but they are not her inventions. The banya ritual, with its bizarre lashing by birch branches, is a beloved Russian pastime, typically enjoyed with alcohol and picked victuals. Baba Yaga, Koschei the Deathless, firebirds and mustard plasters (and even the main character, Marya Morevna) are all part of the Russian folk tradition. And if I had absorbed the source material through a lifetime of culture, rather than a few book and college courses and weeks abroad, I could better appreciate Valente's inversions, re-castings, and transformations. Deathless is a catalog of Russian folk lore stitched into a novel.

The overall plot is impelled by the demands of the fairy tale, not the motivations of the characters, inevitability without agency.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a haunting, gorgeous tale about love - for your lover, your friends, your home - and about death, because those two go together so well. A young girl is kidnapped by a dark dashing stranger, the man of her dreams, and taken to a land where houses have walls of skin and hair, where she hunts firebirds and befriends fairytale creatures. Her lover is Deathless, the Tsar of Life - and being the Tsar of Life, it is so that he must battle death at every turn, and Maria Morevna is drawn into his war. Tired of war and death, torn between her humanity and her new magic, she tries to go home to Leningrad (St. Petersburg), but death follows her there as well.

The story isn't depressing, far from it. This book is darkly humorous, and wrenchingly beautiful. (I cry every time I reread Chapter 23 (p 271-284)) It is bitter sweet, and hopeful, and romantic, and epic - and very intimate at the same time. I loved the ending, both to the romance and the fairytale. Catherynne Valente did an amazing job here. She captures the feel, sound, texture of Russian folklore perfectly, and taps into the culture, history, politics and humor (think Bulgakov), the Russian "soul" exceptionally well. (I am Russian, for a disclaimer.) The prose is more restrained than in "Palimpsest," it's clear and simple, like a teardrop. Ah, there is so much to love here.

It's a complex, layered tale that will reward a careful reader; it will carry you off into a different land and make you live the fairytale and wish for the history to have a similar ending.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, I'm thrilled to say that once again, Valente has proven that my confidence in her work is utterly deserved. Second, I'm very happy with the new turn of style she's taken. The prose is undoubtedly hers, but the style is more straightforward than her previous novels Palimpsest and The Labyrinth, which I believe is better-suited to this particular tale. I wasn't sure I'd like the change, as an ardent fan of both her poetry and her lavish, transcendent prose, but world of Deathless is still full of arresting visuals and exquisitely tensioned relationships between characters.

Speaking of which, the story between Marya Morevna and Koschei is epic, for lack of a better term. It spans wars, and famines, and feasts, which are all things to behold in and of themselves, while still following the tragic tale that Koschei cannot keep himself from re-starting again and again. This time it is set in 1920's-1950's Russia, with the political philosophy of that time adding a particular note to the soup of the story, flavoring everything in sometimes very strong, sometimes very subtle ways. Valente did her research well, and I find myself very interested in reading a history of that period, so compelling a background did it form in this novel.

The relationships that stand upon it are no less compelling either. There are friendships, and marriages, and families upon families, but the focus is on the marriage of Marya and Koschei. Valente does not flinch, and shows both the sacrifices that one person will make for another, and the deep, wrenching wounds that one person will inflict on another. Love is a war in and of itself, difficult to start, and perhaps impossible to end. It is a pain that, as a reader, I came to love to hate to love.
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