Review: “Deathless” by Catherynne M. Valente

Book Reviews, Literature

When I put “Deathless” down, all of a sudden the world seemed hazy and a little grayer than normal. Communist house-elves, Baba Yaga supporting Soviet ideology, Zmei Gorynich, the three-headed treasure-hoarding dragon executing the victims of Stalinist repressions (probably he’s a secret Targaryen?), and of course, Koschei the “Deathless” and Marya Morevna… It is a book that left me slightly hungover, and ravenous for more.

“Marya felt that she had a secret, a very good secret, and that if she took care of it, the secret would take care of her.”

Marya is a child of the Revolution. She is six, when magic comes knocking at her door, yet, somehow, she is the only one to see the wondrous things around her. She is a child of the revolution, sharing her house with a dozen of other families and leading a half-hungered existence. As her sisters get married off to men that aren’t even human beings, Marya is forced to sit by the window and wait for something marvelous to happen as well. All until the moment, Koschei the Deathless, the villain from numerous fairytales, turns up at her doorstep and asks her to be his bride.

Catherynne M. Valente’s spell-binding prose paints a gripping retelling of Russian folklore in the days of the early Soviet Union.  The constant fight between life and death, good and evil, desire and duty, old world and the dawn of a new era…”Deathless” is a tale of magic, passion and conflict that tears up the soul and the world around Marya Morevna.

“Deathless” is tragic. It’s romantic and magical. A book to read again and again.

Overall note: 5+

“Deathless” in 10 quotes:

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.

“The Party is a wonderful, marvelous invention, and it has taught us wonderful, marvelous things – chiefly, that we can cause more trouble with less effort by filing complaints than by breaking teacups.”

“He’ll burn you down like wax if you let him. You’ll think it’s love, while he dines on your heart”

“Husbands lie, Masha. I should know, I’ve eaten my share. That’s lesson number one. Lesson number two: among the topics about which a husband is most likely to lie are money, drink, black eyes, political affiliation, and women who squatted on his lap before and after your sweet self” Baba Yaga

“Intent is trivial”

“Cosmetics are an extension of the will. Why do you think all men paint themselves when they go to fight? When I paint my eyes to match my soup, it is not because I have nothing better to do than worry over trifles. It says, I belong here, and you will not deny me. When I streak my lips red as foxgloves, I say, Come here, male. I am your mate, and you will not deny me. When I pinch my cheeks and dust them with mother-of-pearl, I say, Death, keep off, I am your enemy, and you will not deny me. I say these things, and the world listens, Masha. Because my magic is as strong as an arm. I am never denied.”

“There is no better teacher of rough necessity than bad luck”

“But you don’t trade a tiger for a fat little kitten, you know what I mean?”

“I savor bitterness – it is born of experience. It is the privilege of one who has truly lived. You, too, must learn to prefer it. After all, when all else is gone, you may still have bitterness in abundance.”

“No one should be judged for loving more than they ought, only for loving not enough.”


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