This book is based on a Russian fairy tale and set in the Soviet Union.

Publication year: 2011
Format: print
Page count: 375
Publisher: TOR

Marya Morevna was born in St. Petersburg but the name of the city was soon changed to Leningrad. All of her three older sisters married to men who were birds. Marya saw the birds fall from a tree and change into men. But she didn’t see the man who came to propose to her to fall out of the tree and change into a man. That man is Koschei the Deathless, the Tsar of Life.

He, and the others like him, are essentially trapped in the stories told about them. Koschei’s story will always end with betrayal and death. Marya knows that but thinks at first that she can avoid that fate.

Marya leaves with Koschei into his country, Buyan, where many strange fairy tale creatures live. Marya even befriends some of them. But Kochei is at war with the Tsar of Death and soon the war starts again in earnest. This time, the humans are also at war with each other, too.

The book is split into several parts and the first half of the book is more fairy tale -like, so to speak. The second half is set in war-time Leningrad where people are starving and dying. This part was hard for me to read because I wasn’t expecting it at all.

The Russian faeries have adopted the Soviet Union’s ways to themselves. They call each other comrades or chairmen and they form committees. However, the various creatures aren’t really introduced.

Deathless deals with war and death but at the same time it’s an intimate book about love and marriage.

I’m not familiar with the Russian tales so I can’t really compare it to the original. But I believe some of the tropes have been turned onto their ear: Ivan apparently rescues Koschei’s bride in the tales. But in this one, the bride loves Koschei. But that doesn’t mean that their relationship is easy.

While this is marked as the first in a series in GoodReads, it can be read as a stand-alone.

“A war story is a black space. On the one side is before and on the other side is after, and what is inside belongs only to the dead.”

“That’s how you get deathless, volchitsa. Walk the same tale over and over, until you wear a groove in the world, until even if you vanished, the tale would keep turning, keep playing, like a phonograph, and you’d have to get up again, even with a bullet through your eye, to play your part and say your lines.”

“Lebedeva’s eyes shone. “Masha, listen to me. Cosmetics are an extension of the will. Why do you think all men paint themselves when they go to fight? When I paint my eyes to match my soup, it is not because I have nothing better to do than worry over trifles. It says, I belong here, and you will not deny me. When I streak my lips red as foxgloves, I say, Come here, male. I am your mate, and you will not deny me. When I pinch my cheeks and dust them with mother-of-pearl, I say, Death, keep off, I am your enemy, and you will not deny me. I say these things, and the world listens, Masha. Because my magic is as strong as an arm. I am never denied.”