Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

“Deathless”, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, “Deathless” is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.  (Summary and cover courtesy of


I gave up on this book about 120 pages into the story.  I had forced myself to keep coming back to it, but just could not get taken up by the story.  Part of the problem is that I am not particularly familiar with Russian folklore and Valente only gives minimal description of the magical creatures.  As such, I struggled to understand what was going on and how the characters interacted with each other. 

Marya Morevna is also quite hard to get to know in the beginning.  We only have the barest understanding about what is going on in her head until about 100 pages in when she meets up with Koschei.  Even then, I don’t have a great understanding of what is going on and became frustrated.  All in all, this is a book that I think had some great potential, but without some context will be a rough slog to try to interpret.

Warning: Contains sexual content and violence.

Rating: 1 stars!

Who should read it? Folks that are a little more familiar with Russian folklore may enjoy the story more.