Arianna This answer contains spoilers… view spoiler [ Deathless is, fundamentally, a love letter to Russia, and Russian culture and folklore. Its been stated many times, and I believe its a key factor in …more Deathless is, fundamentally, a love letter to Russia, and Russian culture and folklore. What else would you call hell? It was utterly devastated by both the Second World War and communism. The war had killed an immense number of people, around 40 million, and left the survivors not much better off than the dead, especially because the economy had been ravaged by the war effort.
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Plot[ edit ] Marya Morevna and her sisters live with their upper middle class parents in Saint Petersburg before and during the Russian Revolution. Marya witnesses birds transform into handsome young men who marry her sisters, and meets the council of domovoi or brownies who live in her house along with the other families that get assigned to live there by the Bolsheviks, and cherishes her secret knowledge that magic exists in the world.
She also meets an old woman named Likho who teaches her the mythology of the world, and of the Tsars and Tsarinas who rule various aspects of reality such as life, death, salt, night, water, birds and the length of an hour, of which Likho is one: the Tsarina of the Length of an Hour, who commands misfortune and sorrow. In time, Koschei the Deathless, who cannot die because he has cut out his death and hidden it in an egg, comes to marry her and takes her away from wartime Leningrad to the isle of Buyan in the Country of Life where he lives in luxurious splendour.
While in Buyan, Marya makes three companions of the magical creatures who live there: a vintovnik or gun-imp named Nastya, a leshi called Zemlya, and a vila called Lebedeva. In the process, she learns that Koschei has had countless wives before, usually named Yelena or Vasilisa - the stock fairytale heroines of Russian folklore who defy Koschei and steal his death and run away with princes named Ivan - whom he keeps in an enchanted stupor, and vows to do better than them.
Starving during the Siege of Leningrad , Ivan becomes convinced that Marya is hiding food in the cellar, but when he goes down he finds only Koschei, who tricks Ivan into giving him a drink of water. After this follows an interlude where Marya and Koschei live in an alternate version of a Russian village in the woods, along with innocent, happy villagers who are alternate versions of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, Rasputin , and Josef Stalin and Leon Trotsky.
Eventually, Marya falls pregnant and gives birth to a daughter by Koschei, who embodies his death. She kills him, and Marya awakes in the nest of Alkonost , the Tsar of Birds, who explains that the village of Yaichka in which she has lived with Koschei was a dream inside an egg laid by Alkonost that contained two things: the death of Koschei the Deathless, and a world without sorrow. Alkonost returns Marya to the world of men where she arrives home to find Ivan dying of starvation in their old house.
He professes his love to her and asks her forgiveness before dying, and Marya leaves Leningrad and joins the Red Army. Years later, she comes upon a village that she seems to recognise, and realises that it is almost exactly like a mundane version of Buyan, with human versions of her old magical companions, and a woman named Yelena who claims to be married to Koschei. Baba Yaga is also there, and seems to be the only person who recognises Marya or remembers Buyan or the world when it was magical, and explains to her that the Tsar of Death won the war, and now the whole world is the Country of Death, and all the mystical and mythical and fairytale things of old Russia have become mundane and everyday and no longer remember their existence in the world before, for the Revolution and the two wars have brought about a process of disenchantment that has affected all of Russian culture.
The story ends on an ambiguous note, with Marya Morevna resolving to explore the village of Buyan that night and find Koschei and see if he remembers her and knows who she is. Reception[ edit ] The A.
Posted by Deborah Last month, we invited you to discover the Kingdom of Prester John all over again with the release of The Habitation of the Blessed on Kindle — and now Almanack Productions invites you to read deeper still. The further trials of Prester John and his people are chronicled in Catherynne M. Three narratives intertwine to tell the tale of the beginning of the end of the world: a younger, angrier Hagia, the blemmye-wife of John and Queen of Pentexore, who takes up arms with the rest of her nation to fight a war they barely understand; Vyala, a lion-philosopher entrusted with the care of the deformed and prophetic royal princess; and another John, John Mandeville, who in his many travels discovers the land of Pentexore — on the other side of the diamond wall meant to keep demons and monsters at bay. These three voices weave a story of death, faith, beauty, and power, dancing in the margins of true history, illuminating a place that never was. If you enjoy this strange and singular tale, please help its success by leaving a review on Amazon. Even a simple one-sentence review will encourage more readers to share in the glory of rare medieval intricacy. Thank you to everyone who reads, shares, and reviews — you make these books thrive.
Catherynne M. Valente