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Deathless (Leningrad Diptych #1)

4.11 of 5 stars 4.11  ·  rating details  ·  7,225 ratings  ·  1,092 reviews
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 ac ...more
Audio CD, Unabridged, 12 pages
Published February 14th 2012 by Brilliance Audio (first published March 29th 2011)
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Anna Uprooted by Naomi Novik - an amazing take on slavic folklore and fairy tales.
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Community Reviews

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I name Catherynne Valente an honorary Russian. She has a Russian soul, somehow; otherwise how could she have written this book?!

This is a book about love. And life. Death. War. Loss. Hope. Despair. "Life is like that."

I grew up with these characters - in so many Russian folk tales, in so many Russian movies. The story is always the same. The evil Koschei the Deathless and Baba-Yaga, the kidnapped Marya Morevna (or Yelena, or Vasilisa), the brave Ivan who rescues her... These stories have been t
David "proud member of Branwen's adventuring party"
Deathless is a hauntingly beautiful novel that will stay with you forever!

Life is often full of beauty and joy. But life can also be cruel and painful at times. So it is only natural that the Czar of Life embodies both the wonderful and the terrible aspects of life. As a young girl, Marya Morevna captured the attention of the Czar of Life, the entity she's heard referred to in hushed whispers as Koschei the Deathless. And when Marya became a young woman, Koschei in turn captured her heart. After
Destini Mia~ ♕ Sassy Lassie
“Death, keep off, I am your enemy, and you will not deny me.”

Deathless is one of those books that consumes you at every moment, where it is in every one of your thoughts, and once you read the last word on the last page you say to yourself . . . I think I just read the best book of my life. I can see the crash from here. The hangover to end all hangovers. That is how powerful this book is. Five stars will never be enough for this story.

Deathless is the retelling of the Russian/Slavic fo
Richard Reviles Censorship Always in All Ways
Rating: 4.25* of five

The Publisher Says: 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 tw
4 1/2 stars

Undoubtedly this is one of the most brilliant things I’ve read this year. I’m coming to realize that that statement will probably apply to just about every Catherynne Valente I read. One of the major reasons that I didn’t review this upon finishing it was that I just had no idea how I was going to possibly say anything coherent about something so over the top amazing. HOW? How do I explain that this is one of the most seamless, meaningful unions of fantasy and reality that I’ve ever r
Mar 28, 2015 Carol. rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of fairy tales, Valente
Deathless is

the silence at four a.m.

a warm day at the ocean, salt crusting like dried tears on my face

a glass vodka kept in the freezer, poured over a compote of cucumber in the middle of summer


Refreshing, magical, thoughtful, agonizing; Valente has re-written a Russian fairy tale into a complex love story. It begins:

“In a city by the sea which was once called St. Petersburg, then Petrograd, then Leningrad, then, much later, St. Petersburg again, th
I could have sworn I'd reviewed this book. I could have sworn I'd at least added it to my 'read' shelf! Either I'm crazy or Goodreads ate the review, which is all entirely possible.

Either way, I'm sort of glad that I hadn't reviewed this book directly after I'd read it, because the review would have been a very different one. I'd had some time to dwell on the writing, the story and Valente as a writer and have come to some conclusions that I didn't immediately see when I'd first read the book.


Deathless is a book that denies easy classification into a genre. At first glance it's a fairytale fantasy. At a second its a historical fiction novel with fantasy elements. At another look it perhaps could be suggested to be a magical realism novel. All in all Deathless was a bizarre, quirky and fascinating novel to read.

Deathless, I have been told by a reliable source, is based on Russian mythology and fairytales - their folklore. I heard elsewhere before reading that Valente had embraced Rus
Dec 30, 2014 David rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Stalinist house-elves, brides of birds, Baba Yaga's sister-in-law
In Deathless, Catherynne Valente ambitiously takes on the Russian tale of Koschei the Deathless, turning the traditional tale of the wicked bride-stealing Tsar of Life into a modern fable featuring one such bride, Marya Morevna, who learns to match Koschei in deviousness.

“The rapt pupil will be forgiven for assuming the Tsar of Death to be wicked and the Tsar of Life to be virtuous. Let the truth be told: There is no virtue anywhere. Life is sly and unscrupulous, a blackguard, wolfish, severe.


Seriously, for most of this book, I wanted it to stop. I reminded myself that you don't need a safeword for reading a novel, if you don't want it to go on, you just close the book, see, easy

Only it isn't easy when it's a magnificently written book and you've already lost your heart a little bit to the protagonist, then you're stuck, chained to the wall being whacked with birch switches…

I am reminded that fascism is aesthetic. The folk at the top who have control can only go on bel
You will always fall in love, and it will always be like having your throat cut, just that fast.

This is the story of Marya Morevna, who once upon a time in St. Petersburg stands face to face with the Tsar of Life and is swept away to a land of legend, of war, of magic, to become his bride, and later change the scales of battle for good.

It is a book where magic, folklore, legend and reality blend together effortlessly to tell a tale of love and sacrifice and all the things that could have been
helen the bookowl
I will do a full video review of this book on my YouTube channel very soon, but here are some of my thoughts.
This book is a retelling of Russian folk tales and in my opinion, it has everything that you can wish from a retelling. Even though I'm not familiar with every folk tales that were referenced, I still thoroughly enjoyed this story from start till end. This was such an amazing tale about Marya and her fate as a wife to Death himself.
I especially loved the beautiful writing and I often fo
I really hate to give this such a low rating, but the book just left me cold. I had read the first chapter of it on and it seemed like it was going to be a really interesting book--I don't know much about Russian mythology and this seemed like an interesting way to test it out. But the rest of the book did not live up to the promise of the first chapter, in tone or characterization. I felt like the first chapter belonged in a completely different story from the rest of the book. I found ...more
I had the feeling that people won't understand my complaints unless I write a proper, reasonable review. So, here it is.

To the great misfortune of some authors being familiar with a culture, its legends, myths and history does not necessarily mean that the exact author is capable of writing an appropriate interpretation or re-telling of these aspects.
Acquirement of knowledge and a thoughtful use of it are two entirely different things.
If it weren’t the Russian folk-tales, I would have liked s
Viktoria (seelieknight)
“Oh, I will be cruel to you, Marya Morevna. It will stop your breath, how cruel I can be. But you understand, don’t you? You are clever enough. I am a demanding creature. I am selfish and cruel and extremely unreasonable. But I am your servant. When you starve I will feed you; when you are sick I will tend you. I crawl at your feet; for before your love, your kisses, I am debased. For you alone I will be weak.”

…is that…is that Alarkling!?


Unfortunately, it is not. Fortunately, it’s another boo
I suppose I should open this review with a disclaimer: this book has a 4.6 star average rating among my friends and a 4.16 rating overall, so clearly I'm an outlier here. Many of the critiques that I've read have focused on cultural appropriation, which is an issue I can't speak to, so on that subject: Katya's review and Liz's review.

My problems with the book predominantly lie elsewhere, but there is one aspect about this book as an adaptation that I want to address before moving on. In curiosit
I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I am sure this book was brilliant. On the other hand, brilliance didn't hold my attention very well. I think a major problem is that I didn't know the Russian folktale that this book was based off of, and I spent a good portion of the book feeling like the person at the party who wasn't getting the inside joke. I love fairy and folk tale retellings, but a great portion of my enjoyment of such stories is me seeing how the original tales ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
After a recent reading given by the author, she said in answer to a question that this is her favorite novel she's written for adults so far. I can understand why - she's had a longtime fascination with folklore and mythology threading through her work, sometimes more explicitly than others. I felt more similar as I read this the way I did when I read some of her earliest novels - that she was a master of world mythology and I would never know as much as she did nor could I possibly understand/a ...more
Communist Russia meets fairy tale meets lyrical writing equals an absolute gem of a book. There's really not much I can say; just go read it for yourself!

One of my favourite passages from it, which I think illustrates the flavour of the story:

“The old order, it is good for the old. A farmer wants his son to be afraid of beautiful women, so that he will not leave home too soon, so he tells a story about how one drowned his brother’s cousin’s friend in a lake, not because he was a pig who deserve
Hounds and hearthstones, girl, haven’t you ever heard a story about Koschei? He’s only got the one. Act One, Scene One: pretty girl. Act One, Scene Two: pretty girl gone!

Such a simple premise, but in the hands of Catherynne Valente it turns into a huge tapestry depicting most of the Russian / Slav mythological creatures and fairytales with a few fantastic inventions of her own thrown in the mix. Valente has absorbed all these stories and distilled them into something new and post-moderni
Aug 20, 2014 Yona rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Yona by: David Green
Shelves: fantasy
This book was one roller coaster. It took me up and down and up again. And I think it left me a little broken inside..

This picture reminded me of Koschei and Marya.

[image error]

This is how I'm feeling right now:



The book was full with many emotions. It took me to so many places. There was both happiness and sorrow. But it mostly made me want to curl into a ball and cry.

But I really enjoyed the story and the characters and I'm really glad I read it, that I could experience all that happened.

May 2011

Marya Morevna was just a young girl in St. Petersburg when a bird outside her window fell from a tree, turned into a soldier of the Tsar, and married her oldest sister. That was her first glimpse of the magic of Russia, but by the time her third sister had been married off to a third bird-turned-soldier, "the face of the world had changed," and the magic with it: the soldier-bird was in the Red Army, and the eleven other families who lived communally in her great house had all brought th
Christopher Buehlman
Jun 05, 2015 Christopher Buehlman rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Christopher by: Malaprop's Bookstore
Catherynne M. Valente's Deathless is the best book I've read this year, and one of the prettiest books I've ever read. I found it on the 'blind date with an author' shelf at Malaprop's bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina-they wrap a book in brown paper and write three words about it (in this case I believe those words were 'dark,' 'magical' and 'hypnotic') and then you trust the staff member who chose it and just buy it blind. I'm SO glad I did. When I wrote The Necromancer's House and drafte ...more
It is a very rare thing for me to stay up at night in order to finish a book. I am a hopeless morning person and therefore not an evening person. No matter how much I love a book I always get sleepy around 10 PM, the letters get wobbly before my eyes, and I can't make sense of the dancing sentences on the thin paper pages.

This book was an exception. Not only did the remaining pages keep me awake, the story itself wormed its way into my brain and rummaged there even after I had finished reading.
"I have come for the girl in the window", he said, and his eyes filled with tears."

I guess I have to write a review. I feel like I have to because of its beauty and at the same time I don't know how I can review it. How? Is it possible to sum up this book, this wonderful and haunting book with just a few words? The answer would be no. Go read it and then you will understand. Because see, there are books you hate, books you like and books you love. But this? This is a book you love.

Deathless is a
Victoria Schwab
One of the strangest, hardest, most magical books I've ever read.
This book is problematic. Based on the reviews and descriptions, I expected to love this novel--especially because of its Russian themes and use of Russian folk tales. Admittedly, I hardly qualify as an expert on Russian folklore and mythology, having only dabbled a little during grad school.

That said, this book was a disappointment on a lot of levels. And yet it's the kind of book that makes me feel disappointed in myself for not liking it. It's certainly a book that all but demands re-reading.
There are times when you read or hear or see something and you marvel at the ability of humans. You think,"That's it, that's the reason why we're alive. To tell these stories through art and music and books." And this is it. This book. I finally allowed myself to finish it and it ended as powerfully as it began, if not ten times more powerful. It was incredible, almost unbelievable that one being could craft such a book. Where reading feels as natural and awe inspiring as breathing.
This was a conundrum for me. The first part was magical. I loved watching the sisters and the various suitors. Then reality set in with the rise of the Soviet Union. Its not a pretty thing. And then we meet out last suitor and are off the journey. While, I enjoyed the magical place and story I got rather bored somewhere in the middle...I am not sure what happened. I enjoyed what a person might find horrific, was is actually life, a fountain of blood, buildings made of flesh, fur, bones. It made ...more
I don't know that I will ever recover from this book. It will haunt me for the rest of my life, because it is a book I didn't write and never will and will always, always wish that I had. The language is beautiful and evocative, and it is so clever in its nuances and symbolism. But it isn't trying too hard to be clever, and you don't read it thinking how the author was trying to be clever. It just is, which is refreshing when so many books published today are trying too hard.

This is a book that
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Catherynne M. Valente was born on Cinco de Mayo, 1979 in Seattle, WA, but grew up in in the wheatgrass paradise of Northern California. She graduated from high school at age 15, going on to UC San Diego and Edinburgh University, receiving her B.A. in Classics with an emphasis in Ancient Greek Linguistics. She then drifted away from her M.A. program and into a long residence in the concrete and cam ...more
More about Catherynne M. Valente...

Other Books in the Series

Leningrad Diptych (2 books)
  • Matryoshka (Leningrad Diptych, #2)

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“You will always fall in love, and it will always be like having your throat cut, just that fast.” 518 likes
“You are going to break your promise. I understand. And I hold my hands over the ears of my heart, so that I will not hate you.” 436 likes
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