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Deathless (Deathless #1)

4.13 of 5 stars 4.13  ·  rating details  ·  4,944 ratings  ·  763 reviews
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...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 29th 2011 by Tor Books
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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...more
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...more
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...more
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...more
Carol. [All cynic, all the time]
Feb 16, 2014 Carol. [All cynic, all the time] rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Nov 27, 2012 Jonathan rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jonathan by: Nataliya

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...more
Oct 07, 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.
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
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...more
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.

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...more
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...more
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
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...more
Stephanie Swint
This is a beautiful book combining the magic of Russian folk stories, old rule of Russian Czars, and the rise of Communism. The story of Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless is told while St. Petersburg, becomes Leningrad and Russia enters World War II. Valente shows folk tales and belief in magic to be old traditional Russia filled with Czars and Czaritza's of life and death. New communistic Russia is modern with no need of fairy tales. It only needs what can be made by a comrades two hands....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....more
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.

Nutshell: World War II interferes with atavistic eruption into Soviet Union.

Meh. Not exactly biting criticism of the Soviet Union (which is not normally an audacious or brazen subgenre). Clever use of Slavic mythology, updated for the Stalin years. Protagonists are apparently immaterialists and monarchists, so it was hard to sympathize with their problems, which include the finer points of keeping slaves and cannibalism; I just wanted Uncle Joe to shoot them all. Annoying that the reality of the...more
Feb 02, 2012 Elizabeth rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Adults who read literature and love to revisit myth
I don't know that I'll be able to read this book again, because it was harsh and brutal and lush and terrible all at once. It made my mind hurt to read it once because of its complexity, endlessly folded stories, and references to characters I remember from reading myths. But it was incomparable, one of the best stories from a myth I have ever read. I appreciated Baba Yaga's reference to the tale of the golden firebird (the one where Ivan and Yelena have a wolf), as it reminded me of a book I re...more
This really is a remarkable author and I am sincerely wondering why she doesn't have more readers and fans. Deathless has firmly put me in the fan camp. This interpretation of Russian folklore dared me not to put it down as I read but I had to in order to savour it.

Ms. Valente's writing is like no other I have read. While she manages to portray Kolschei in all his wicked and selfish glory she also makes you note that he has human feelings and failings. Her ability to balance dark and light with...more
Johann Coetzer
Wow, just WOW!! this book is really brilliant and would suggest this to all I can. Really good
Yzabel Ginsberg
I'm giving it 2.5/3 stars, but I honestly have no idea what I've just read, nor whether I actually liked it or not. It's definitely weird. I think I don't know enough about Russian folklore to fully taste everything in this book—but at the same time, I knew enough folklore (as well as history) to be able to piece things together, at least most of the time... I think? This is so hard to explain.

The prose was interesting. Poetic, sometimes too much, which led to convoluted imagery; mostly it worke...more
This was a book that bubbled over with authenticity, imagination and passion. The prose manages to be lyrical and formulaic at the same time, capturing the essence of the best fairy tales. Yet despite all these wonderful ingredients, I found my interest to be continually sidelined. This frustrated me, because the concept of the novel--a fairy tale fantasy superimposed over the tragedy of real war--is more or less the same as Pan's Labyrinth, a movie which absolutely transported my imagination.

It's always fun to read books about Russia - in this case, it gives me a chance to harass my Russian husband about esoteric cultural things he probably hadn't thought about in twenty-five years.
Me: "What's a domovoi?"
Him: "It's a creature that lives in a house, like a spirit."
Me: "There's a committee of domovoi in this book."
Him: "A committee of domovoi?"
Me: "Yes, when the families were kicked out of their houses by Stalin and forced to live in communal apartments in St. Petersburg, the domovoi...more
excellent stuff. it started out a little slowly at first, and i have to admit, i wasn't marya's greatest fan for the first hundred pages. i wasn't entirely sure if valente was subverting traditional gender roles or condoning them and it did nettle me at first.

but! this book absolutely picked up and in an incredible way. masha's character development was outstanding — one of the most rounded and relateable characters i've read. the way the story wove between the real and the unreal, between russi...more
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....more
After reading Nataliya's wonderful review of this novel, I checked out the audiobook version from the Indiana Digital Media consortium - and loved every minute of it!

It's a retelling of a Russian folk tale (featuring Koschei the Deathless) set in the Stalin-era Soviet Union. The language is gorgeous and the juxtaposition of fairy tale elements with the Glorious Revolution is fascinating; for example Zmei Gorynych, a dragon who feasts on the bodies of heroes is now a bureaucrat "dining" on the f...more
Matt Brady
It's not you, Catherynne M. Valente, it's me.

No seriously. It's a hacky thing to say but it's absolutely true. Valente is a really gifted writer. Her prose is stylish, lyrical and beautiful. But, this kind of story, this genre, if it can be called that, just isn't my thing. Modern day fairy-tales, magical realism, whatever you want to call it. I can only take that stuff in small doses, it seems. Super passive protagonists are not something I am a fan of either. And it's taken me a while to figur...more
I really wanted to like this book, and stuck with it to the end mainly due to the beautiful prose, but it never delivered. I know this novel was intended to play on traditional folk tales, but it really did not translate to a full length book. Folk tales rely on repetition (series of 3s) and one-dimensional characters (defined by one exaggerated characteristic). That works in short tales. But in a long tale, centered on a theme of suffering and toying with conflicting relationships, it drags the...more
This was another of my disappearing reviews. Deathless is a complex and beautiful novel, so that I'm sure a review so long after the fact can do nothing to capture it. I will say that it's well researched, unearthly, and full of Catherynne M. Valente's usual prose -- the sort of prose that I want to call poetic. I didn't understand/follow all of it, I do recall that much, but I was content to be along for the ride and see how it turned out.

My notes on it also indicate that my original review was...more
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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...
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland, #1) The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There (Fairyland, #2) In the Night Garden (The Orphan's Tales, #1) Palimpsest The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two (Fairyland, #3)

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“You will always fall in love, and it will always be like having your throat cut, just that fast.” 354 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.” 282 likes
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