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Deathless Paperback – February 14, 2012
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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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
Top customer reviews
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I'm normally very skeptical of "re-tellings" and "adaptations" of folklore, especially when done by people who don't have deep roots in the tradition. (Yes, "Valente" is not a Russian name.) There are so many Evangeline Waltons, Lloyd Alexanders, and Marion Zimmer Bradleys out there who have a tin ear and don't get it, or (worse) have an ideological axe to grind, and don't care what damage they do to the received tradition. Their works may be entertaining on their own terms, but they damage the folk tradition instead of enriching it.
This book is not like theirs.
Catherynne Valente's reworking of the story of Marya Morevna, Prince Ivan, and Koschei the Deathless conquered me completely. She sets her story in the context of the Russian Revolution,Stalinism, and the Second World War--besides Koschei, Marya, Baba Yaga and the rest, there are very lightly drawn appearances by Lenin, Stalin, Tsar Nicholas and his family, Rasputin, Kerensky, and the Wehrnacht, among many others, and the book ends in the siege of Leningrad.
The brilliance of the book is that all this modern relevance detracts not at all from the fairy-tale atmosphere, but pulls you right into it, and eventually rips your heart right out of your chest. (There's a faint 50-Shades whiff at the beginning, but it's part of the subtlety of the love/power relationship between Marya and Koschei, and it recedes from view very quickly as Marya's character develops.)
If you don't mind losing at least one night's sleep reading under the covers, I can't recommend this book enough.
I can't recommend this tale to people that demand traditional pacing and concrete characterization. This is a subtle piece of work, and if you go into it unfamiliar with Russian folk tales (like I did) you need to be willing to either punch a few names into google or take some of the thematic elements on faith. Either way, I found myself enjoying Deathless, and that was due in large part to the author's exceptional grasp on language and imagery. I'll be sure to find my way to another of her novels soon.
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. After the first reading, I'm left with several provocative statements about love, as well as life, that I can barely begin to wrap my head around, and which will spur me to re-read this novel several times, I've no doubt. This work is layered, and carefully, as Koschei hides his death, though not impossibly so, and the glimpse of the egg I have so far is enough for me to give it five stars.
Most times authors attempt to write this kind of philosophy it ends up coming off as a dry lecture or you feel like you've been beaten over the head. That is not the case here. Valente writes fantasy as mythology, showing us wonders (The Kingdom of Life is gorgeous!) while also showing us what it means to be trapped in a story. Any story, whether it's the bindings of myth or the current of history.
The comparison is apt and mystically done, you are aware of the man behind the curtain but he too is part of the masterful performance, integral to the question of having freedom even in the midst of chains.
How can we be free? It is a question that asks much of us, and we may not get exactly what we want, but as Deathless shows it is worth fighting for even in the darkest of situations.
Most recent customer reviews
I bought this book a year ago and couldn't get into it then. I've given it a second chance...Read more