SUMMARY (from Goodreads): A glorious retelling of the Russian folktale Marya Morevna and Koschei the Deathless, set in a mysterious version of St. Petersburg during the first half of the 20th century. A handsome young man arrives in St Petersburg at the house of Marya Morevna. He is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, and he is Marya's fate. For years she follows him in love and in war, and bears the scars. But eventually Marya returns to her birthplace - only to discover a starveling city, haunted by death. Deathless is a fierce story of life and death, love and power, old memories, deep myth and dark magic, set against the history of Russia in the twentieth century. It is, quite simply, unforgettable.
Deathless is quite a depressing book, in a way, but nonetheless a fantastic read.
The story is mainly set in St. Petersburg, the city with an ever-changing name, in one of the darkest (if not the darkest) periods of Russian history, spanning the time from the pre-Revolutionary era to the aftermath of the Second World War. That said, the plot takes the reader across Russia, to its farthest hidden corners, both the tangible and the intangible, in space and in time.
Catherynne M. Valente perfectly captures the Slavic soul – which may feel exotic to some people, but is so much a part of me – with its pessimistic worldview and a penchant for tragedy, finding beauty in dark things and sadness, interspersed with tiny bits of humour, or rather, typical sarcasm, even cynicism.
Valente combines myth and folklore with historical allusions, which stay almost unobtrusively in the background of the story. Between the lines one can discern insightful yet subtle social commentary/criticism, applicable both to historical and contemporary circumstances.
Everything is wrapped in a beautiful, highly metaphorical, yet easily readable language. The magic, myth and folklore at the forefront are, for one who wants to see beyond them, filled with an overwhelming symbolism, a study of humanity on the level of an individual and the society in general.
All that said, I have no idea why I had had the impression Deathless would be a YA book prior to reading it, for it is certainly not, at least in my opinion. It is, however, an amazing read, though dark, and I enjoyed it very much.
RECOMMENDATION: If you love the darker side of myth, folklore, and humanity, Deathless could be an excellent read for you.