Catherynne M. Valente
Deathless Cover



I'd like to start this review by saying that Deathless is one of the most beautifully written books I have read in a long time. Any criticisms I have of the book or thoughts on the plot are a minor consideration of my enjoyment of the book.

Deathless is a retelling of the Russian folk story of Koschei the Deathless, and his wider 'family'. Koschei is the Tsar of Life and consequently cannot die. The story follows the life of Marya Morevna from childhood to womanhood crossing the spans of the cataclysmic events which shaped Russian history in the 20th Century.

The reader would most definitely benefit from having an understanding of Russian history and the key events and people. Having an awareness of Russian mythology would also enrich the reader's experience. On a personal level I understood the significance of the various characters and events in their historical context yet found myself very often using internet searches to learn more about the mythical beings and their significance. This did not detract from my enjoyment of the novel and I enjoyed broadening my knowledge of Slavic mythology - understanding the significance of domovoi, leshy, liho and rusalka's etc. enriched my reading.

Valente's use of language and imagery is beautiful. When describing food or colour in the context of 'life' her words pulsate - like a throbbing heartbeat. The relationship between Koschei and Marya is sensual yet cruel, passion and eroticism want to leap out of the pages. There is a 'greediness' to the novel that oozes through the book. However, when Valente needs to she can switch levels without it ever seeming forced or 'clunky'. The cold and suffering of the siege of Leningrad or the barreness of the Russian heartland are felt by the reader, yet still in Valente's voice. The novel is sensual yet sad and tragic. However humour is sprinkled throughout the book and even the especially wicked characters raise a laugh or two.

I liked the fairy tale structure of the novel - there was much repitition and things happened in 'three's' as in the tradition of other European fairy tales. At times I struggled to follow the plot but I was just happy to go along for the ride.