Deathless is a hauntingly beautiful novel that will stay with you forever!
Life is often full of beauty and joy. But life can also be cruel and painful at times. So it is only natural that the Czar of Life embodies both the wonderful and the terrible aspects of life. As a young girl, Marya Morevna captured the attention of the Czar of Life, the entity she's heard referred to in hushed whispers as Koschei the Deathless
. And when Marya became a young woman, Koschei in turn captured her heart. After being whisked away by Koschei to a land of enchantment and wonder, Marya grows to love the Czar of Life, as well as life itself. But life can sometimes be uncertain as well. A growing war between the country of life and the country of death threatens to take Marya away from everything she's come to cherish. And when a stranger named Ivan stumbles upon the country of life and tries to convince Marya that everything she thinks she knows is wrong, Marya is not sure what to believe. How do you trust your heart once you've completely given it to another?
is one of the most powerful and heartbreaking books I've ever read! Catherynne Valente has taken a very common tale in Russian folklore and transformed it into something truly unique and magical. The first part of the book introduces us to Marya Morevna...Marya Morevna says, "You want a strong fantasy heroine?!? I once strangled an enemy combatant with my braid! Your move, Katniss Everdeen!
As a young girl, Marya sees things that others don't, like birds that transform into men and communist elves that maintain the order of the house she lives in. Because of this, others regard her as strange and ostracize her. Marya is a very sympathetic figure in this segment, and when she is in pain, the reader feels it as well. Much of this segment illustrates a very grim portrayal of life in Russia during the Russian Civil War. Marya is forced to live in a cramped house with eight families. When she expresses a desire to keep something for herself and not have to share it with everyone else (even something as simple as a red scarf), she is branded a traitor. The moment when Marya's red scarf is taken from her and she begs to be able to keep it is just one of many moments when my eyes began to water. However, the entire segment isn't so heart-wrenching. The introduction of a society of elves (also known as the House Committee) that live within the walls of Mayra's group home leads to some rather comedic and whimsical moments. This segment does a masterful job of blending reality and fantasy, using fairy-tale elements to create a brilliant allegory of a difficult period in Russia's history.
In addition, the first segment also introduces us to Koschei, the immortal Czar of Life. Marya has heard terrifying legends about Koschei, but when he offers to take her away from the torments of her current life, she feels compelled to follow him into his magical homeland. The final moments deal with Koschei compelling Marya to open herself to a new way of life, one where she allows herself to fully experience the pleasures of life and devour as many of them as she can without ever feeling required to share them with others (save himself). In this scene, Koschei encourages Marya to partake in an extravagant feast, but also demands that she only experience it in the way that he allows her to, which he claims to do only so that she will maximize her enjoyment from this. As this segment concludes, Koschei makes a rather chilling promise to Marya, "Oh, I will be cruel to you, Marya Morevna. It will stop your breath, how cruel I can be. But you understand, don't you? You are clever enough. I am a demanding creature. I am selfish and cruel and extremely unreasonable. But I am your servant. When you starve, I will feed you. When you are sick, I will tend to you. I crawl at your feet, for before your love, your kisses, I am debased. For you alone I will be weak.
As the book continues, Koschei does indeed keep his promise, for better and for worse...
The second part of the book jumps ahead a few years, where Marya is now a young woman. While she spent her first few years of life in poverty, her courtship with Koschei has brought her many riches. This segment of the book is the most fairy-tale like (even down to Marya having to embark upon a magical quest), and it was also my favorite part of the book as well. Marya has three close companions in this segment, a sweet and perky gun-goblin named Naganya, a gruff but caring plant golem named Zemlehyed, and a vain and self-absorbed witch named Madame Lebedeva. All three of these characters are quite endearing (even Lebedeva, in her own special way), and their adventures with Marya lead to some of the more tender moments in the book. That's not to say this segment is without tragedy, however. For starters, Marya is a much different woman than the meek girl from the beginning. Koschei's cruelty has rubbed off on her, and there are times when Marya resorts to brutal tactics to impose her will on others, always assuring herself she is doing it for their own good (a claim she's heard Koschei give to her on many occasions). Also, we learn more about Koschei in this segment, beginning with the revelation that he has had many lovers before Marya...This is Koschei, and women seem to be far more attracted to him than they are to me...not gonna lie, that's more than a little depressing!
Soon, Marya learns that all of Koschei's lovers are destined to betray him. While she vows that she loves Koschei far too much to ever do the same, she is still disturbed by the prophecy that she will one day leave Koschei for a man named Ivan. Also disturbing is the growing unrest between the Czar of Life and his brother, the Czar of Death. This rising conflict leads to the last half of the book, where a man from Russia stumbles upon Koschei's magical kingdom...would anyone like to guess as to what this man's name is?!?
Up until this point, I've been pretty specific in my descriptions of the book's events, but for the remainder of the review, I have to be more vague. While some of the information I've given you can be found on the book's back cover or in various descriptions of the book, revealing too much more would be an injustice to anyone who wants to experience this book for themselves. I will tell you that the second half is even more emotional than the first, and it covers such heavy topics as betrayal, loss, and the horrors of war. In fact, Chapter 23 is quite possibly the most depressing chapter of a fictional book I have ever read (of course, that hasn't stopped me from reading it two more times since then, as it is really that powerful). However, that's not to say that this entire segment is grim. There are some genuine sweet and heart-warming moments as well. One of the most humorous segments in the book occurs when Marya tries to exert control over Ivan the same way Koschei does to her, and Ivan instead gives her the response she should have given Koschei! Ivan proves to be a noble and likeable character, even though he isn't quite as strong or dynamic as Marya and Koschei... This is Ivan's version of defending Marya...I don't think he's doing it right!
Due to the emotional depth of this book, I would have loved to have been able to give it five stars. However, I did have a couple of problems with Valente's writing style that permeated throughout the entire book. For one thing, Valente has a tendency to hammer a point home so hard that it can give you a headache! This is especially prevalent in any scene involving a meal...while I get that Valente was using food as a metaphor for life and pleasure, I still didn't needed to read pages upon pages of descriptions of every kind of food item Valente could envision! (WARNING: anyone who's on a strict diet may want to avoid this book, as it's impossible to not get food cravings multiple times throughout the story!) Similar to this issue was Valente's tendency to repeat herself. Granted, she was going for a fairy-tale approach to the story, and fairy-tales often use repetition, but it was a bit off-putting when I pretty much knew word-for-word how entire paragraphs would read as I had already read them several times before!
While it may not be a perfect read, "Deathless"
is still a most powerful one. Granted, people who embrace a socialist ideology may be offended at some of Valente's political statements, and those who don't have a working knowledge of Russian history may miss some of the references. That said, there is still more than enough here to please just about any reader. A view of real-life through a magical lens, "Deathless"
is one emotional roller-coaster that is definitely worth riding! Dave's confession - "I cried many times throughout this novel...this never happens when I read my Batman books...well, except for Frank Miller's [b:All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, Vol. 1|2239435|All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, Vol. 1|Frank Miller|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348590970s/2239435.jpg|2245283] ,but that was only because it sucked so bad!"