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Book Nook: Review of Deathless by Catherynne Valente

A review of an updated fairytale for adults. If you ever read Baba Yaga or Vasila the Brave, this might be for you.

I personally love the way that Catherynne Valente writes. Her words actually create stunning images inside my mind. While I've been waiting for the newest Fairyland book and her Six Gun Snow White to be released I thought I'd check out some of her older novels that I haven't read. Deathless was the easiest one to get my hands on through the Minuteman network. Its a retelling of the Russian folktale of Koschei the Deathless, with a council of domovoy and Baba Yaga providing additional fantastical elements. 

The story follows Marya Morevna, a child that has been touched by magic since she was a young girl and saw her sisters' suitors turn from birds to men outside her window. Set during the Russian Revolution, Marya is isolated from her peers because she longs for magic in her life and speaks out of turn in class. She fills her time with reading Pushkin and counting the steps from her section of the house to the next family forced to share space with them. When she is warned that Papa Koschei is coming, instead of fearing the villain of many childhood stories, she goes with him to his kingdom of Life. But everything goes wrong. The only human in a world of fantasy, she never quite fits in, and when tragedy strikes she is forced to make a decision to follow how her story should follow or fight for her own identity and choices.

The way that Valente retells this classic Russian fairytale is mesmerizing, but at times a little hard to follow. It is filled with the kind of details that will sweep you away, yet the story is convoluted and turns back on itself several times which makes it hard to follow. My biggest problem with the story was when Valente chose to dramatically alter her characters' personalities, especially Ivan, without explanation only to find out that the parameters of the story had changed and that's why they were acting differently. Describing her characters is difficult for me. I want to say that they are rough or sharp or broken, but not the sense that her writing is bad. Instead I mean that its as if the reader is looking through a spyglass that's been chipped or clouded. We can't see them as clearly as we would like and that affects how the story is read. Its not my favorite of her novels, but it is a good read, especially if you like grown up fairytales.

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