Catherynne M. Valente
Deathless Cover



Koschei the Deathless is a character in Russian folklore. He can’t be killed unless you get his soul which is inside a needle, which is in an egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, which is inside a box that is buried under a tree on the island of Buyan. It’s a task which seems impossible, therefore Koschei never dies.

Catheryn M. Valente has taken this folktale and made it her own in DEATHLESS, placing the story in and around Leningrad during World War II and shortly after.

Young Marya Morevna dreams of a man coming to her family’s home and whisking her away to live happily ever after, the same way it happened to her older sisters. The man who comes for her is wealthy. His name is Koschei Bessmertny. His car takes her away from the poverty among the twelve families who share her house. But towards what was she going?

Marya Morevna ran out onto Dzerzhinskaya Street, which had been Kommissarskaya Street, which had been Gorokhovaya Street, her black hair long and loose, her cheeks lashed red, her breath a hanging mist in the air. Snow crunched beneath her boots. Comrade Bessmertny smiled at her without showing his teeth. The birds never hurt my sisters, Marya said to her galloping heart. He is not a bird, said her heart. You weren’t careful, you didn’t see. He held open the door of a long, black car – a sleek curving thing, the kind Marya had only glimpsed rumbling by, always followed by the grumbling of her neighbors regarding the evils of the merchant class.

Marya’s story encompasses life, death, domoviye (house spirits), Firebirds, war, dreamlike places, Baba Yaga (another deathless being who rides around in a mortar), pain, pleasure, secrets and memories.

Marya reached for the pale, intricately carved rifle slung over her back. She loved her rifle. There was no other like it. She had found it in Naganya’s house, so long ago. The vintovnik had whittled it out of the bones of the firebird they had killed on their hunt, the last time they were all together, meaning it to be a wedding present. Marya Morevna brought it to bear on the ghost and adjusted the sighting.

All of the descriptions are so compelling – I was enchanted throughout DEATHLESS. After finishing it I did a bit of researching of Russian folklore and immediately wanted to reread the entire book!

Without warning, the leshy shot up into the air, somersaulted, and came down hard on the mossy loam, digging furiously. His fists flew at the earth; his teeth gnashed and tore; his feet kicked like a diver plunging into deep water. Clumps flew; Zemlehyed disappeared into his hole. After a moment, his fingers, knuckles ringed with lacy mushrooms, popped back up. “Morevna! Bustle! Faster than you is still too slow.” Marya took the leshy’s rough hand and he hauled her, headfirst, underground.

As Marya grows older, she begins to question things. Is she happy with her life? Is Koschei all that he seems? Is there something better beyond the forest? How has the war effected Leningrad?

DEATHLESS is an engaging story that will take you to a magical place and another time.