Deathless [NOOK Book]

Overview


Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

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Deathless

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Overview


Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Twentieth-century Russian history provides a background for Valente's lush reimagining of folkloric villain Koschei the Deathless and his dalliance with Marya Morevna, a clever but troubled young woman. After Koschei sweeps Marya away from her family's home in St. Petersburg-Petrograd-Leningrad, Baba Yaga assigns her three tasks that will make her worthy of marrying Koschei. As she spends more time in Koschei's Country of Life, Marya starts to become too much like her unearthly lover, until naïve Ivan Nikolayevich helps her regain her humanity (as well as the sympathy of the reader). Valente's lush language and imagery add to the magic and fundamentally Russian nature of the story, drawing pointed parallels between the Soviet Union's turmoil and the endless war between Koschei and his brother, Viy. Readers used to the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault will find this tale peculiar but enchanting. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
"Romantic and blood-streaked, and infused with magic so real you can feel it on your fingertips—Deathless is beautiful." —Cory Doctorow

“Stories, unlike people, don't stay dead forever, or not always. They can live again—but only under very special circumstances. They must be revived by the miraculous touch of a very rare class of being, a kind of multi-classed genius/scholar/saint, who can restore them to life. Catherynne Valente is such a being.” —Lev Grossman on Ventriloquism

“Valente just knocks me flat with her use of language: rich, cool, opiated language, language for stories of strange love and hallucinated cities of the mind.” —Warren Ellis on Palimpsest

“Valente’s lyrical prose and masterful storytelling brings to life a fabulous world, and solidifies Valente’s place at the forefront of imaginative storytelling.” —Library Journal, starred review, on The Orphan’s Tales

“Lyrical, witchy... mixes feminist grit with pixie dust.” —Entertainment Weekly

“Catherynne M. Valente’s first three novels earned her a reputation as a bold, skillful writer. Her latest, The Orphan’s Tales, reaffirms that early acclaim... These are fairy tales that bite and bleed. Every moment of lyricism is countered by one of clear-eyed honesty, and sometimes the moments combine...Now we wait for Valente to bend her knee again and make more myths.” —Washington Post

“The earlier novels and poetry collections have established her as a distinctive presence in contemporary fantasy’s landscape, but The Orphan’s Tales still might make her seem like a spontaneous mountain.” —Bookslut

Library Journal
Koschei the Deathless, the dark, magical, and powerful Tsar of Life, has fallen in love. Marya Morevna, a human girl and a daughter of the Russian Revolution, is his chosen bride, and one gray afternoon he steals her away to his land of Buyan. There their relationship blossoms, and through the years the dramas of the world—both Koschei's world and Marya's—are reflected in their arguments, their passions, and their love. With poetic language, a tempest of emotion, and the skill of a master storyteller, Valente (The Orphan's Tales; In the Night Garden; Palimpset) juxtaposes the stripped-down, starved reality of Soviet Russia with luxurious, magical worlds tucked away, out of human sight, before tying them together with the struggles universal to us all—life, death, love, war, hunger, prosperity, and loss. VERDICT This complex and invigorating reimagined piece of Russian folklore by an award-winning author will cast a spell on readers and not let go. For fans of Neil Gaiman, Gregory Maguire, and the like, this is essential.—Leigh Wright, Bridgewater, NJ
Kirkus Reviews

Another intricate fantasy (The Habitation of the Blessed, 2010, etc.) from Valente, based on what feels like the entire panoply of Russian folktales.

In Leningrad, during the early days of the Communist revolution, the house where Marya lives is shared by a dozen families. While gazing from the window, Marya Morevna sees a bird tumble from a tree and turn into a handsome young man; he approaches the house and asks to marry Marya's eldest sister, who accepts. In turn Marya's other elder sisters accept bird-husbands also, but when it's Marya's turn she is not watching and does not see the bird become a man. Her husband is Koschei, a wizard known as Bessmertny (the deathless) because his soul is hidden separate from his body on the island of Buyan, and as long as it remains there he cannot die. The witch Baba Yaga, Koschei's sister, says that the most important thing about a marriage is: who rules. Marya discovers a room occupied by beautiful girls, all named Yelena, all unaware of their surroundings and working like automatons. The Yelenas are Koschei's previous victims, whom he stole away, then enchanted. Eventually, each Yelena was seduced by a handsome solider named Ivan, whereupon Koschei discarded them. Baba Yaga offers Marya a way to avoid the same fate, by setting her three seemingly impossible tasks to accomplish. All this barely scratches the surface of what's going on here; scenes, people, myths and history intertwine. It's dazzling but intensely self-involved.

Overwhelming and probably indecipherable to all but the most persistent, well-informed readers.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429968409
  • Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
  • Publication date: 3/29/2011
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 149,467
  • File size: 371 KB

Meet the Author


CATHERYNNE M. VALENTE's first major release, The Orphan's Tales, was released in the fall of 2006 when Cat was twenty-seven. Volume I, In the Night Garden, went on to win the James Tiptree Jr. Award and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award. The series as a whole won the Mythopoeic Award for adult literature in 2008. Her most recent novel, Palimpsest, has been nominated for the Hugo Award and is a Locust Award finalist. She currently lives on a small island off the coast of Maine with her partner, two dogs, and one cat.


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Read an Excerpt


1
Three Husbands Come to Gorokhovaya Street
 
In a city by the sea which was once called St. Petersburg, then Petrograd, then Leningrad, then, much later, St. Petersburg again, there stood a long, thin house on a long, thin street. By a long, thin window, a child in a pale blue dress and pale green slippers waited for a bird to marry her.
This would be cause for most girls to be very gently closed up in their rooms until they ceased to think such alarming things, but Marya Morevna had seen all three of her sisters’ husbands from her window before they knocked at the great cherrywood door, and thus she was as certain of her own fate as she was certain of the color of the moon.
The first came when Marya was only six, and her sister Olga was tall as she was fair, her golden hair clapped back like a hay-roll in autumn. It was a silvery damp day, and long, thin clouds rolled up onto their roof like neat cigarettes. Marya watched from the upper floor as birds gathered in the oak trees, sniping and snapping at the first and smallest drops of rain, which all winged creatures know are the sweetest, like tiny grapes bursting on the tongue. She laughed to see the rooks skirmish over the rain, and as she did, the flock turned as one to look at her, their eyes like needle points. One of them, a fat black fellow, leaned perilously forward on his green branch and, without taking his gaze from Marya’s window, fell hard—thump, bash!—onto the streetside. But the little bird bounced up, and when he righted himself, he was a handsome young man in a handsome black uniform, his buttons flashing like raindrops, his nose large and cruelly curved.
The young man knocked at the great cherrywood door, and Marya Morevna’s mother blushed under his gaze.
“I have come for the girl in the window,” he said with a clipped, sweet voice. “I am Lieutenant Gratch of the Tsar’s Personal Guard. I have many wonderful houses full of seed, many wonderful fields full of grain, and I have more dresses than she could wear, even if she changed her gown at morning, evening, and midnight each day of her life.”
“You must mean Olga,” said Marya’s mother, her hand fluttering to her throat. “She is the oldest and most beautiful of all my daughters.”
And so Olga, who had indeed sat at the first-floor window, which faced the garden full of fallen apples and not the street, was brought to the door. She was filled like a wineskin with the rich sight of her handsome young man in his handsome black uniform, and kissed him very chastely on the cheeks. They walked together down Gorokhovaya Street, and he bought for her a golden hat with long black feathers tucked into its brim.
When they returned in the evening, Lieutenant Gratch looked up into the violet sky and sighed. “This is not the girl in the window. But I will love her as though she was, for I see now that that one is not meant for me.”
And so Olga went gracefully to the estates of Lieutenant Gratch, and wrote prettily worded letters home to her sisters, in which her verbs built castles and her datives sprung up like well-tended roses.
The second husband came when Marya was nine, and her sister Tatiana was sly and ruddy as a fox, her sharp grey eyes clapping upon every fascinating thing. Marya Morevna sat at her window embroidering the hem of a christening dress for Olga’s second son. It was spring, and the morning rain had left their long, thin street slick and sparkling, jeweled with wet pink petals. Marya watched from the upper floor as once more the birds gathered in the great oak tree, sniping and snapping for the soaked and wrinkled cherry blossoms, which every winged creature knows are the most savory of all blossoms, like spice cakes melting on the tongue. She laughed to see the plovers scuffle over the flowers, and as she did, the flock turned as one to look at her, their eyes like knifepoints. One of them, a little brown fellow, leaned perilously forward on his green branch and, without taking his gaze from Marya’s window, fell hard—thump, bash!—onto the streetside. But the little bird bounced up, and when he righted himself, he was a handsome young man in a handsome brown uniform with a long white sash, his buttons flashing like sunshine, his mouth round and kind.
The young man knocked at the great cherrywood door, and Marya Morevna’s mother smiled under his gaze.
“I am Lieutenant Zuyok of the White Guard,” he said, for the face of the world had changed. “I have come for the girl in the window. I have many wonderful houses full of fruits, many wonderful fields full of worms, and I have more jewels than she could wear, even if she changed her rings at morning, evening, and midnight each day of her life.”
“You must mean Tatiana,” said Marya’s mother, pressing her hand to her breast. “She is the second oldest and second most beautiful of my daughters.”
And so Tatiana, who had indeed sat at the first-floor window, which faced the garden full of apple blossoms and not the street, came to the door. She was filled like a silk balloon with the flaming sight of her handsome young man in his handsome brown uniform, and kissed him, not very chastely at all, on the mouth. They walked together through Gorokhovaya Street, and he bought for her a white hat with long chestnut-colored feathers tucked into its brim.
When they returned in the evening, Lieutenant Zuyok looked up into the turquoise sky and sighed. “This is not the girl in the window. But I will love her as though she was, for I see now that one is not meant for me.”
And so Tatiana went happily to the estates of Lieutenant Zuyok, and wrote sophisticated letters home to her sisters, in which her verbs danced in square patterns and her datives were laid out like tables set for feasting.
The third husband came when Marya was twelve, and her sister Anna was slim and gentle as a fawn, her blush quicker than shadows passing. Marya Morevna sat at her window embroidering the collar of a party dress for Tatiana’s first daughter. It was winter, and the snow on Gorokhovaya Street piled high and mounded, like long frozen barrows. Marya watched from the upper floor as once again the birds gathered in the great oak tree, sniping and snapping for the last autumn nuts, stolen from squirrels and hidden in bark-cracks, which every winged creature knows are the most bitter of all nuts, like old sorrows sitting heavy on the tongue. She laughed to see the shrikes scuffle over the acorns, and as she did, the flock turned as one to look at her, their eyes like bayonet points. One of them, a stately grey fellow with a red stripe at his cheek, leaned perilously forward on his green branch and, without taking his gaze from Marya’s window, fell hard—thump, bash!—onto the streetside. But the little bird bounced up, and when he righted himself, he was a handsome young man in a handsome grey uniform with a long red sash, his buttons flashing like streetlamps, his eyes narrow with a wicked cleverness.
The young man knocked at the great cherrywood door, and Marya Morevna’s mother frowned under his gaze.
“I am Lieutenant Zhulan of the Red Army,” he said, for the face of the world had begun to struggle with itself, unable to decide on its features. “I have come for the girl in the window. I have many wonderful houses which I share equally among my fellows, many wonderful rivers full of fish which are shared equally among all those with nets, and I have more virtuous books than she could read, even if she read a different one at morning, evening, and midnight each day of her life.”
“You must mean Anna,” said Marya’s mother, her hand firmly at her hip. “She is the third oldest and third most beautiful of my daughters.”
And so Anna, who had indeed sat at the first-floor window, which faced the garden full of bare branches and not the street, was brought to the door. She was filled like a pail of water with the sweet sight of her handsome young man in his handsome grey uniform, and with a terrible shyness allowed him to kiss only her hand. They walked together through the newly named Kommissarskaya Street, and he bought for her a plain grey cap with a red star on the brim.
When they returned in the evening, Lieutenant Zhulan looked up into the black sky and sighed. “This is not the girl in the window. But I will love her as though she was, for I see now that that one is not meant for me.”
And so Anna went dutifully to the estates of Lieutenant Zhulan, and wrote properly worded letters home to her sisters, in which her verbs were distributed fairly among the nouns, and her datives asked for no more than they required.


 
Copyright © 2011 by Catherynne M. Valente
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 18 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is a terrific complicated retelling of a Russian folktale that uses The Revolution era as a backdrop to the saga

    The city has changed names several times over the past century, but currently is called St. Petersburg as everything goes full circle. On Gorokhovaya Street, Marya Morevna was six years old when she saw the bird turn into Lieutenant Gratch of the Tsar's Personal Guard who came to take away her older sister Olga with him. Three years later Lieutenant Zuyok of the White Guard also changed as he came for Tatiana. Finally when Marya was twelve Lieutenant Shulan of the Red Army arrived for the third daughter Anna. Watching the birds change to men come for her older sisters leaves Marya musing over the type of bird her mate will be.

    Koschei the Deathless Tsar of Life arrives for his woman, Marya. However, she must prove herself worthy as Koschei's mate. In that regard Baba Yaga tasks Marya with three impossible assignments; failure to compete all three proves she is not the mate of the Deathless Tsar of Life. Marya begins her Herculean tasks, Marya starts to lose her humanity until she meets the innocent Ivan "The Fool" Nikolayevich, who pulls her back to Mother Russia; leaving her confused with one foot in Koschei's realm and one in the land of her ancestors.

    This is a terrific complicated retelling of a Russian folktale that uses The Revolution era as a backdrop to the saga; in fact Marya becomes a Major-General in the Red Army. Fast-paced with a strong protagonist who keeps the engaging story line focused; readers will appreciate this intriguing look at Bolshevik Russia through a fantasy lens.

    Harriet Klausner

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2013

    Hauntingly beautiful.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 19, 2012

    Gorgeous and surreal.

    Gorgeous and surreal.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2014

    Lord Savant

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 5, 2013

    I think of this often; it haunts my brain.  A fairy tale of fire

    I think of this often; it haunts my brain.  A fairy tale of fire burning inside ice.  Devastatingly beautiful, both stark and rich.  Definitely a must for any Valente fan.  This is surely one of her best.  

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  • Posted November 19, 2012

    I enjoyed this book, especially once I got into the flow of it.

    I enjoyed this book, especially once I got into the flow of it. It is written poetically with a lot of the rhythms of a Russian fairy tale telling. I would definitely recommend it to a russophile, especially those familiar with 19th and 20th century Russian history and culture, including themes of east vs. west, and magic vs. realism. I was often reminded (especially in the first half) of Master and Margarita. Familiarity with the Russian language will also help you with the characters and the settings.

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  • Posted May 18, 2011

    Ugh.

    I tried, but could not finish the book. Not a good book. It drags...

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 1, 2011

    A beautiful fairy tale

    This book is simply amazing.

    The first thing that struck me was the prose itself. It is measured, rhythmic, and beautiful. At the same time it feels intimate. I can imagine an old grandmother (babushka?) sitting in her rocker, surrounded by a semicircle of boys and girls on the cusp of adulthood, telling this story. The not-voice of the narrator rose and fell in my mind. Some parts were like whispers, others like shouts.

    The story itself is similarly engaging. Valente intertwines the backdrop of the Russian Revolution and Civil War neatly with a fantasy story woven out of Slavic folklore. Those tales have never been a big part of my study, so I knew just enough to see one or two things coming. Nevertheless, I never felt lost. The author supplies plenty of background to keep regular readers engaged.

    Throughout, the story maintains the feel of an elegant fairy tale. Strange events and facts lack objective explanation - it's just the way things are. Themes and phrases occur over and over, tying the narrative back to its roots.

    The themes of the story are complex, but don't bog it down. It's a war story, a coming of age story, a story of sex and power, and a story of magic. It's a story about the old world in conflict with the new, and a story about families. Comrade Valente keeps them all in the air at once, rather than putting them end to end which would have given us a long, slow, bloated epic of a thing.

    There are a few troubles with the book, despite the high rating I've given it. The normal Russians are written (and referred to by the monsters) with the jaded eye of someone who has seen how the story ends. Since there are so few such characters, in the end it makes little difference. There are a few editorial goofs as well: In one passage about a shrike (or was it the plover?) one sentence refers to him as a rook; At one point the main characters husband is referred to by another name. These issues were minor in my mind, and didn't really detract from my enjoyment.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted April 25, 2011

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    Posted November 27, 2011

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