Deathless by Catherynne Valente: There Are No Disney Princesses Here
When I started Deathless all I knew that it was based on Russian fairy tales. I had no idea what to expect, but within the st few paragraphs I’d decided the book wasn’t for me. I like Regency romance. Socialist Russia isn’t a setting that is particularly attractive to me, what with my aversion to misery, so as soon as I realized that was where this story took place I lost interest.
Then a bird fell out of a tree and turned into a man and I was trapped in this book.
When Marya Morevna was a child, she was looking out the window and saw a bird fall out of a tree and turn into a man. That man came to the door and presented himself to her mother. Then married Marya’s eldest sister. This happened again with Marya’s next eldest sister, and Marya knew that there was magic in the world that other people couldn’t see.
Marya grew increasingly familiar with magic in the following years. House-elves called the Domovoi revealed themselves to her, and Likho, the embodiment of bad luck, became her teacher. They all have the same warning for her: “He is coming.”
“He” is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, the Deathless, and he has chosen her for his wife.
The story follows Marya from her childhood in a home overcrowded by Socialist ideals to her marriage to Koschei and decades beyond. History and fairy tale are woven together so seamlessly that I couldn’t find the line between the two. While World War II rages in our ordinary world, the endless battle between the Tsar of Life and his brother, the Tsar of Death, tears the other world apart.
Deathless is a complicated tale that jumps through time and across dimensions. It’s sexual and violent, and every sexual or violent act (and sometimes they’re the same thing) has a purpose within the story and create some of the most powerful scenes in the book.
I decided at least five times that I wasn’t going to finish it, and each time it dragged me back in.
Catherynne Valente’s writing is gorgeous; rich and heavy like melted chocolate, and just as difficult to stay away from.
This book is turning me into a goddamn poet.
Deathless is a beautiful book, but it’s not for everyone. There are no fluffy puppy moments in this book. There’s pain and blood and loss. In fact, that’s basically the entire book. Pain, blood, and loss with a side order of sex. This isn’t the kind of book you kick back with to while away a couple of hours. It’s an emotional experience that might leave you awake at night, pondering the inevetibility of your own death.
That’s what happened to me. It was super fun.
Normally, this is the part of the review where I would say, “Read it, maybe” or possibly, “This book would make EXCELLENT kindling”. In this case, I don’t know what to say. I’m glad I read it. I’m looking forward to reading more of Catherynne Valente’s work.