Written by Catherynne M. Valente. Published 2011 by Tor Books. Awarded Best Adult Fiction in 2014 by Elbakin.net; nominee of the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award (2012) and James Tiptree Jr. Award (2011).
Background: The book is based on multiple Slavic folktales. Multiple references have been made to tales in Narodnye Russkie Skazki, which was collected by Alexander Afanasyev. Some of the stories that were alluded are The Death of Koschei the Deathless, The Maiden Tsar, and Tsarevitch Ivan, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf. The book is also set after the Russian Revolution in 1917, which ended the country’s autocratic rule and lead to the beginning of the Soviet Union.
Plot: The book takes place during post-revolution Russia and follows Marya Morevna as a child seeing the world in its purest form to her maturity and matrimonies with life and death. Deathless demonstrates a brutal and refined version of a fairytale love story with a mix of politics, wars, seduction and the brutality of living during a revolution. I found the story magical and haunting at the same time.
Characters: The main characters are rooted from familiar Slavic folk characters. Ivan Nikolayevich is based on the typical male protagonist who saves his wife named Yelena or Marya. Koschei the Deathless is also an archetypal antagonist in Russian folklores. The characters are all different from their folklore counterparts; Koschei is still intimidating, but his brutality in this book came off as charming and powerful rather than menacing; Marya Morevna is also set apart from the typical novel heroine- she’s provocative, selfish, clever and flawed. The author allowed her main characters to think for themselves which made them a set of complex, interesting people. Even the minor characters were impressionable.
Writing Style: The author can be her own category of fiction. Valente has a distinct, whimsical way with words that makes her works stand out from the rest. Her writing for this book is stylistic, picturesque, and explicit, which expertly provided a sexy, refined and hostile mood overall.
Rating: ★★★★★ (5/5) I will recommend this book to mature readers, anyone interested in mythology or folklores, fantasy, or just good writing. Cannot recommend to sensitive or young readers.