Catherynne Valente is well-known among fantasy fans as a true storyteller. In Deathless, she borrows generously from Russian folklore, and especially the figures of Baba Yaga and Koschei the Deathless.
This is the way Valente describes the book in her blog post of March 29, the day it was published: “There is so much love in it, and so much hope. In brief terms, it is a retelling of Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless set during the Stalinist era and the siege of Leningrad. It is a return to fairy tales and the retellings of them. But it is also probably the funniest book I’ve ever written, (if you like dark humor), and plot/structurewise the most straightforward outside Fairyland.”
A substantial excerpt (the first several chapters) is available on the Tor site.
Adult/High School–This lyrical fantasy is a reimagining of the traditional Russian fairy tale featuring Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless. Set in early to mid 20th century, Deathless weaves tsars (gods) of the spirit worlds, goblins, and other mystical creatures into the genuine harshness of life in Russia during the Stalinist regime and World War II. Famine, war, and death ride side by side with the difficult love story of Marya, torn between Koschei the Deathless (Tsar of the Living), and her human love, Ivan Nikolayevich. Readers follow her as she travels back and forth between worlds, mystical creatures on one side, humans on the other. Though a challenging read at times, the poetic crafting of this tale will appeal to fantasy enthusiasts who are seeking fresh stories. Other than Baba Yaga, many of the characters and elements of this story will probably be new to most readers. Valente’s approach to fairy tales is to take the fairy out. She shakes off the traditional gossamer and instead focuses on the power in the story, thinking more about the fire, blood, and resurrection that already exist there, the things that make them memorable. Fans of Bill Willingham’s “Fables” graphic novels (Vertigo, 2002) will enjoy this updated fairy tale, similarly retold with traditional characters placed in contemporary, trying situations –Carla Riemer, Berkeley High School, CA