Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente
Genre: Historical fantasy, adult fairytale, romance(maybe).
‘’Life consumes everything and Death never sleeps, and between them the world moves. Winter becomes spring. And every once in a while, they act out a strange, sad little pantomime, just to see if anyone has won yet. If the world still moves as it used to.’’
Deathless is a fairytale in every sense of the word. And no, not one of those sissy American Disney fairytale. This is a real one from the darkest depths of the old, vast forests of Europe. In those days, fairytales were about fire and ice and blood, and heroes were few.
Koshei the Deathless is a wicked figure in Russian folklore, villain of countless stories told through generations, but this story isn’t about him. Fairytales are seldom told through the eyes of the sinister creatures that inhabit them, no, there has to be a human thrown into the middle of it. Our story starts in what is now St. Petersburg, the city with a hundred names, and a girl called Marya Morevna. Marya Morevna is destined to become Koshei’s bride, and like countless of previous brides, she will also be undone by him.
But Marya Morevna is different, because what sort of story would this be otherwise? I’ve seen a quote on bouncing around Tumblr recently about how you can’t wait around for another person to make you who you always were. Succumb to the darkness yourself.
And this applies to Marya, who I think always was destined to become this. To grow from a naïve yet clever child into a woman just a sinister and terrible as Koshei, into someone whom he can love, even if she will eventually be his undoing, and not the other way around this time.
I am incredibly fond of old fairytales, having grown up with them, and while Valente isn’t Russian, she captures the spirit perfectly. It has that surreal fairytales logic similar to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Spirited Away or your own dreams. It’s quite unrealistic, I feel, that when the heroine goes through so much shit and cruelty through the course of the story but in the end they still believe in the goodness of people. And then they save everyone because their goodness and love is better and more magical than everyone else’s or something. I’m sure those people do actually exists, but they’re so over-represented in fiction. Marya Morevna is not that girl, Marya Morevna embraced the darkness and made it her bitch.
It a wonderful, blood streaked and magical story with a hint of epic seeping through the cracks.
Read this if: You like interesting female protagonist, and/or anti-heroes(they’re quite rare). Or if you like adult fairytales about the Russian revolution, witches and devils play out in dark forests full of snow and hungry eyes.