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Deathless Hardcover – Mar 10 2011

5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Tor Books (March 29 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0765326302
  • ISBN-13: 978-0765326300
  • Product Dimensions: 15.1 x 3.3 x 21.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 386 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #437,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“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

About 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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Format: Hardcover
Valente pulls off two difficult balancing feats -- retelling classic Russian folk tales while letting them be informed by the history of the Soviet Union from the Revolution to just after the Great Patriotic War; as well as writing a fairy story where the characters (at least the human ones) grow and change. (Neil Gaiman pulled this off as well in _Stardust_ -- which is probably the highest praise I can give.)

The story taps into a dark and powerful vein of pessimistic fantasy. The writing is brilliant -- some of it is in folk tale cadence with all its repetitions and parallels, and the psychological treatment of the characters works -- the powerful beings (Koschei the Deathless, the Baba Yaga, and others) are note-perfect and terrifying, and Marya Morevna, our heroine, grows up and learns and changes, marries and starves (during the siege of Leningrad) and kills. Somehow the novel stretches to accommodate both Politburo-bureaucratese and jam-packed, imagistic flights of fantasy.

I'll be sure to read more by Valente in the future.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Gorgeous, rich, and lovely.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x9af67678) out of 5 stars 80 reviews
79 of 84 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b105858) out of 5 stars A catalog of Russian folk lore stitched into a novel May 29 2011
By Tim Westover - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I thought that I would be an ideal reader for Catherynne Valente's Deathless, her 2011 work of magical realism and Russian folklore. I'm familiar with most of the folk tales and practices on which her work is based. I've taken courses on Russian literature and history and toured both Moscow and St. Petersburg extensively. I speak enough Russian to understand the references (not quite puns) in the character and geographic names. But all of this, I've found, actually makes me less than an ideal reader for Deathless -- my dilettantish dabbling into various parts of Russian culture leaves me equipped with neither of the frameworks I could use to appreciate the novel.

If I weren't familiar with the source material, I would be more awed by the strangeness of Valente's work and the striking images she presents -- a world of eggs, feathers, huts with chicken legs, galloping pestles, magical villages, and house spirits. Valente casts these elements into beautiful English prose, but they are not her inventions. The banya ritual, with its bizarre lashing by birch branches, is a beloved Russian pastime, typically enjoyed with alcohol and picked victuals. Baba Yaga, Koschei the Deathless, firebirds and mustard plasters (and even the main character, Marya Morevna) are all part of the Russian folk tradition. And if I had absorbed the source material through a lifetime of culture, rather than a few book and college courses and weeks abroad, I could better appreciate Valente's inversions, re-castings, and transformations. Deathless is a catalog of Russian folk lore stitched into a novel.

The overall plot is impelled by the demands of the fairy tale, not the motivations of the characters, inevitability without agency. Goldilocks has to eat the three bears' porridge, else she wouldn't be Goldilocks -- she has no choice in the matter. Similarly, Marya Morevna has no choice in her interactions with Koschei the Deathless. They are preordained by centuries of Russian tradition. "Why" or "How" are not a question one can ask of fairy tales, and they don't figure into Valente's novel, either. It's better to let the striking images and strong, direct language exist as points and not attempt to resolve them into a coherent outline of a plot.

The real world / Soviet elements of the story aren't as well fleshed-out as I'd hoped. This is a shame, because they are among the more intriguing ideas. What would Baba Yaga or the Firebird have done at the Siege of Leningrad? The domovoi (house spirits) organizing themselves into soviets and committees is brilliant (they have been too long oppressed by the bourgeois inhabitants), and I'm sorry that this didn't play a larger role.

Valente's narrative voice is lush, ornate, packed with adjectives and descriptors, and borrows the cadence of the fairy tale. This is usually powerful, but in certain moods and quantities feels oppressive. The voices of her characters are no different. Characters speak in lush, large, sweeping sentences, proverbially, poetically and axiomatically. This fits their role as archetypes and ideals, not as people. There are frequent jumps (temporal and thematic) between sections and between sentences, so that at times, the novel feels non-sequitur. It is cleverer than the reader; it is wiser. It expects the reader to keep up, and I couldn't always meet the challenge.

Deathless, to me, succeeds as a series of images and fails as a story. It has more in common with the snippets of Akhmatova poetry found throughout: best understood as fragments of some much greater whole.
66 of 71 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ac0ca98) out of 5 stars The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death April 3 2011
By Anastasia - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a haunting, gorgeous tale about love - for your lover, your friends, your home - and about death, because those two go together so well. A young girl is kidnapped by a dark dashing stranger, the man of her dreams, and taken to a land where houses have walls of skin and hair, where she hunts firebirds and befriends fairytale creatures. Her lover is Deathless, the Tsar of Life - and being the Tsar of Life, it is so that he must battle death at every turn, and Maria Morevna is drawn into his war. Tired of war and death, torn between her humanity and her new magic, she tries to go home to Leningrad (St. Petersburg), but death follows her there as well.

The story isn't depressing, far from it. This book is darkly humorous, and wrenchingly beautiful. (I cry every time I reread Chapter 23 (p 271-284)) It is bitter sweet, and hopeful, and romantic, and epic - and very intimate at the same time. I loved the ending, both to the romance and the fairytale. Catherynne Valente did an amazing job here. She captures the feel, sound, texture of Russian folklore perfectly, and taps into the culture, history, politics and humor (think Bulgakov), the Russian "soul" exceptionally well. (I am Russian, for a disclaimer.) The prose is more restrained than in "Palimpsest," it's clear and simple, like a teardrop. Ah, there is so much to love here.

It's a complex, layered tale that will reward a careful reader; it will carry you off into a different land and make you live the fairytale and wish for the history to have a similar ending.

A note on some Russian translations of names (it was quite delightful to see the author play with them so cleverly, and definitely added a layer to the story):

Zvonok means "doorbell"
Chainik means "tea kettle"
Skorohodnaya (Road) means "quick-walking"
Kosti means "bones," while Kostya is a man's name (so Maria's name for Koschei is an affectionate pun)
Chernosvyat (Koschei's castle) means "Black blessed" or "black light"
Vintovnik (imp) means "rifle" (vintovka)
Lebed means "swan"
Ushanka is a winter hat with big floppy ears
Geroy (Ivan Geroyev) means "hero"
Ozero (Kseniya Yefremovna Ozernaya) means "lake" (and I recogized her from Valente's fanatastic short story "Urchins, While Swimming")
Yaichko (Yaichka village) means "egg"
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ae9c8e8) out of 5 stars Poignant DEATHLESS is another must-read from Valente March 30 2011
By Eh - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, I'm thrilled to say that once again, Valente has proven that my confidence in her work is utterly deserved. Second, I'm very happy with the new turn of style she's taken. The prose is undoubtedly hers, but the style is more straightforward than her previous novels Palimpsest and The Labyrinth, which I believe is better-suited to this particular tale. I wasn't sure I'd like the change, as an ardent fan of both her poetry and her lavish, transcendent prose, but world of Deathless is still full of arresting visuals and exquisitely tensioned relationships between characters.

Speaking of which, the story between Marya Morevna and Koschei is epic, for lack of a better term. It spans wars, and famines, and feasts, which are all things to behold in and of themselves, while still following the tragic tale that Koschei cannot keep himself from re-starting again and again. This time it is set in 1920's-1950's Russia, with the political philosophy of that time adding a particular note to the soup of the story, flavoring everything in sometimes very strong, sometimes very subtle ways. Valente did her research well, and I find myself very interested in reading a history of that period, so compelling a background did it form in this novel.

The relationships that stand upon it are no less compelling either. There are friendships, and marriages, and families upon families, but the focus is on the marriage of Marya and Koschei. Valente does not flinch, and shows both the sacrifices that one person will make for another, and the deep, wrenching wounds that one person will inflict on another. Love is a war in and of itself, difficult to start, and perhaps impossible to end. It is a pain that, as a reader, I came to love to hate to love. After the first reading, I'm left with several provocative statements about love, as well as life, that I can barely begin to wrap my head around, and which will spur me to re-read this novel several times, I've no doubt. This work is layered, and carefully, as Koschei hides his death, though not impossibly so, and the glimpse of the egg I have so far is enough for me to give it five stars.
HASH(0xa6b813f0) out of 5 stars Astonishing May 30 2015
By Philip Hobbs - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At one level, folk traditions belong to everybody. At another and more fundamental level, they belong to those who are part of the living tradition, and to nobody else. Modern writers can enrich the living tradition, and pass it on for others to do the same. Charles Williams's contributions to Arthuriana and Kevin Crossley-Holland's contributions to essentially everything Northern come to mind. They lived in the tradition and enriched it.

I'm normally very skeptical of "re-tellings" and "adaptations" of folklore, especially when done by people who don't have deep roots in the tradition. (Yes, "Valente" is not a Russian name.) There are so many Evangeline Waltons, Lloyd Alexanders, and Marion Zimmer Bradleys out there who have a tin ear and don't get it, or (worse) have an ideological axe to grind, and don't care what damage they do to the received tradition. Their works may be entertaining on their own terms, but they damage the folk tradition instead of enriching it.

This book is not like theirs.

Catherynne Valente's reworking of the story of Marya Morevna, Prince Ivan, and Koschei the Deathless conquered me completely. She sets her story in the context of the Russian Revolution,Stalinism, and the Second World War--besides Koschei, Marya, Baba Yaga and the rest, there are very lightly drawn appearances by Lenin, Stalin, Tsar Nicholas and his family, Rasputin, Kerensky, and the Wehrnacht, among many others, and the book ends in the siege of Leningrad.

The brilliance of the book is that all this modern relevance detracts not at all from the fairy-tale atmosphere, but pulls you right into it, and eventually rips your heart right out of your chest. (There's a faint 50-Shades whiff at the beginning, but it's part of the subtlety of the love/power relationship between Marya and Koschei, and it recedes from view very quickly as Marya's character develops.)

If you don't mind losing at least one night's sleep reading under the covers, I can't recommend this book enough.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9ac8a288) out of 5 stars Rich, gorgeous, ruthless Jan. 3 2013
By Cass M. - Published on
Format: Paperback
I am so, so glad I finally read this book. Deathless is a blending of several myths out of Russian/Slavic mythology, regarding Koschei the Immortal and Marya Morevna. ... Valente weaves those tales together with the history of Russia in the first half of the twentieth century, from the Revolution through the rise of the Cold War. ...

Koschei, Tsar of Life, engages in his eternal battle with his brother Viy, the Tsar of Death -- but the world, unarguably, is changing, and the war that was never going well is even less optimistic in these times. Human events allow Viy to claim more and more quickly than he ever has before -- or does Viy's success reflect itself in the mortal world and spur those catastrophes? The lines between Koschei's country, Viy's, and ours are blurry to begin with, and the smudges defining their boundaries get all the more smeared as the years progress.

The central story of Deathless is that of Marya Morevna, a heroine too aware of her role. ... Marya finds herself seduced by Koschei, spirited away to his country, which is both of our world and beyond it, in the way of fairy tales. Though he cherishes and spoils her, and though she makes friends in this land and takes to its customs, she must still pass trials before she can become his bride in truth. The story is not as simple for her as for other heroines, though, particularly as she learns how many of those heroines there have been in Koschei's past, and what ends they came to.

... As with the Orphan's Tales duology, Deathless lets you know that Valente is a writer absolutely steeped in mythology of all kinds. She must have been marinating herself in it for years, and the investment has paid off remarkably. ... I highly recommend this book to any fans of folklore and fairy tales, particularly if you're someone who enjoys modern, magical-realism twists on them, or else the grittier, less forgiving, less redemptive versions of the stories. Valente's writing voice is exquisite -- dark and lyrical, utterly poetic yet entirely unflinching from the harsh and the ugly, with a cadence familiar yet enchantingly new. Marya's twisted, torquing path is one I'm eager to tread again.