Does your husband know the way that the sunshine gleams from your wedding band?*
Posted April 3, 2011on:
Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente
Published in March 2011
Where I got it: purchased new
Why I read it: Adored Valente’s Habitation of the Blessed
I read many passages in this book twice, sometimes three times. Not because I didn’t understand them the first time, but because I wanted the beauty of the words to impress themselves upon me. So many parts of this book left me breathless.
What must it be like to fall into a story? To live in a fairy tale land and spend your days with mystical creatures?
This is a story has already been told countless times, and is in fact being told again right now, and the characters in the story knows how it ends, how it has always ended, how it must end. If you have fallen into a story as someone new, can you change the end to suit your needs, or will your needs change to suit the ending?
In her new novel, Deathless, Catherynne Valente has taken the Russian folk story of Koschei the Deathless (go ahead and wikipedia him, I did), and fashioned her own beginning and end of the story. How came he to meet Marya Morevna and how came she to control him? And most importantly, as Valente mentions in the acknowledgments at the end of the book, how did Koschei end up chained to the wall in Marya’s basement??
This is my second Valente novel, and she has a voice like no other author I’ve ever read. Her prose caresses you, it loves you, it whispered the things you want to hear in the softest most seductive voice. And of course, because all things are mortal, all stories must come to an end if only to be able to start again. thus, page by page, word by word, you can only get closer to the end. Within the experience lies it’s own destruction.
(I have a terrible habit of writing reviews while still under the influence of whatever I’ve just read. Go skim a few other reviews on this site. it’s cool, I’ll wait. now, after reading the things I usually write after reading a book, are you starting to see how Valente’s writing affects me?)
Right now, you’re probably asking what this book is about. It is about Koschei the Deathless and Marya Morevna, and how they met, and how they fell in love. Yes, this is a love story. Love means trusting someone enough to tell them all your secrets. To give them the power to keep your hostage, to invite them to dominate you. Magic can be made from words and that’s exactly what Valente does with her descriptions of their relationship and life in Koschei’s realm. How Marya is exposed to magic at a young age, how Koschei abducts her and seduces her, how everything in his realm is alive, and nothing ever dies. The intensity, almost the danger, of their romance is astonishing.
Sometimes love stories are pure, and gentle and innocent. This is not that story.
Marya must receive the blessing of Baba Yaga, Koschei’s sister, before they can be wed. Baba Yaga gives Marya three quests to complete, with the help of her three friends. Marya performs admirably, and along the way she meets a dragon who is a Russian General who tells her the moment and circumstances of her death, she finds the means of betraying Koschei, she learns one day a mortal man named Ivan will come to her, and she will not want to say no to him, nor will the rules of the story allow her to. She also learns she is not the first woman Koschei seduced. Not the first to be wooed by good food, and by words, and by her silence. All of the other women betrayed him, and in the pain of his broken heart, he imprisoned them, forever.
The only way Marya can complete the quests is to betray Koschei.
Koschei is known as the Deathless because when the world was young he separated his death from himself. He is the Tsar of Life, and is constantly at battle with his brother, Viy, The Tsar of Death. Koschei and Viy are not good guys or bad guys. They are brothers, and the love each other, and their stories are tragic. Everyone who dies in service of the Tsar of Life wakes up as a shade, a ghost in the service of the Tsar of Death. Viy’s forces are always getting stronger, while Koschei’s are always weakening. Because everything dies, eventually. Even Koschei.
I found Deathless to be beautifully written. When I close my eyes I can see Koschei’s realm, I can see the jewels he spoils Marya with, I can see her sisters who have married birds and Baba Yaga’s vicious pestle that she rides, screaming through the night. A stunning book to read, but not always an easy book to read. There is sex, and there is violence, and there is violent sex. If you prefer your fiction chase and gentle, this is not the book for you.
Near the end, the story slows down, gets a little more tragic. Marya knows how things must end, and after her friends forget her and Ivan can’t bear her, all she can do is wait.
It’s been about 24 hours since I finished this book, and really all I want to do is read it again.
*the title of the post: 10 points and a cookie to the person who can tell me what song that is from. Better points and a better cookie to the person who can tell me which of Marya’s husbands might have sang that to her.