Monday, January 23, 2012

Review: Deathless

Synopsis from Goodreads:

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.

I loved this retelling of Russian folklore set around the time of Stalin and World War II. I knew nothing of Koschei and house elves prior to reading this book. Now I want to know more.

The heroine of the story, Marya Morevna, watched birds become men who came to claim her sisters as wives. She waited for the day a bird would come to claim her. Marya was able to communicate with the house elves, who like the outside world of Soviet Russia, has organized in committees.

Koschei, in the form of a bird, eventually comes for Marya  and thus begins her journey through the folklore of Russia intertwined with 20th Century Soviet history.

This book does not gloss over that history but it made me want to learn more about it it with Valente’s prose. I recommend this rewriting of a fairy tale.

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