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DEATHLESS by Catherynne M. Valente

DEATHLESS

By Catherynne M. Valente

Pub Date: April 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2630-0
Publisher: Tor

Another intricate fantasy (The Habitation of the Blessed, 2010, etc.) from Valente, based on what feels like the entire panoply of Russian folktales.

In Leningrad, during the early days of the Communist revolution, the house where Marya lives is shared by a dozen families. While gazing from the window, Marya Morevna sees a bird tumble from a tree and turn into a handsome young man; he approaches the house and asks to marry Marya's eldest sister, who accepts. In turn Marya's other elder sisters accept bird-husbands also, but when it's Marya's turn she is not watching and does not see the bird become a man. Her husband is Koschei, a wizard known as Bessmertny (the deathless) because his soul is hidden separate from his body on the island of Buyan, and as long as it remains there he cannot die. The witch Baba Yaga, Koschei's sister, says that the most important thing about a marriage is: who rules. Marya discovers a room occupied by beautiful girls, all named Yelena, all unaware of their surroundings and working like automatons. The Yelenas are Koschei's previous victims, whom he stole away, then enchanted. Eventually, each Yelena was seduced by a handsome solider named Ivan, whereupon Koschei discarded them. Baba Yaga offers Marya a way to avoid the same fate, by setting her three seemingly impossible tasks to accomplish. All this barely scratches the surface of what's going on here; scenes, people, myths and history intertwine. It's dazzling but intensely self-involved.

Overwhelming and probably indecipherable to all but the most persistent, well-informed readers.