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19 November 2018

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By Catherynne M. Valente

Valente is an award-winning fantasy writer who, by way of her marriage to a Russian, has been introduced to the rich, peculiar world of Russian myth and fairy tale. The result is Deathless, an inspired, rich mix of fantasy and reality.

She begins by situating this tale of Koschei the Deathless in an off-kilter Stalinist Russia. Marya Morevna – who sees birds turned into bridesmaids, then carrying off her sisters – is swept off her feet by the evil Koschei and blindly tries to do all she can to become worthy of him (Baba Yaga provides the essential three tasks). But, as is usually the case in Russian fairy tales, there is a truth-seeing simpleton – Ivan Nikolaevich – who saves the day, leading Marya back toward humanity.

Valente has a true gift for storytelling and language, and she has created a lush world (complete with domovoys and leshys) that, if not wholly believable for being so fantastic, is thoroughly enthralling.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: May/June 2011