Catherynne M. Valente is the author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and it’s a real favourite of mine, so when I spotted Deathless at the library, I couldn’t pass it by. Not what I expected. Not. At. All. But in a good way. This is well and truly an adult novel with BDSM, war, trauma, and death. It may seem dark and scary, but really, it has the same fantastic elements found in her other novels. Based around the Russian fairytale “The Death of Koschei the Deathless” collected by Alexander Afanasyev and set during and after the Russian Revolutions in 1917, the novel is broken into six parts and follows the life of Marya Morevna who witnesses the revolution as a child and, when she grows up, becomes the bride to Koschei, Tsar of Life.
There’s a wonderful blend between historical events and the fantastic. For instance, Marya watches her three older sisters meet and marry young soldiers who had originally been birds and represent the different regimes. The story is full of creatures from Russian folklore and the structure of the story echoes the traditional flow of fairytales. The language is beautiful and I loved how rich the novel is in Russian culture and history.
Deathless is the right balance of heartbreaking and triumphant, and wonderfully different. I highly recommend!