Saturday, March 22, 2014


By: Catherynne M. Valente
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.

I'm not sure how to write this, but I'm going to try anyway. I really considered not writing a review at all for this book, but I think it'll be good to collect all my thoughts and try to come up with solid feelings about this book.
First off, it was very different than I was expecting. I was expecting a story more like Catherynne M. Valente's other books that I've read, just without the lightness of YA/Middle Grade. But from the first page I could tell this was different, darker. Not a bad thing at all, it was really intriguing in that way. I wanted to be pulled deeper into the ashy world of 19th Century Russia and its folklore. As much as the shades of the type of story changed, you can definitely tell that it's Valente writing it. Her gorgeous prose is just as gorgeous here, if colored with more despair and less whimsy.
That being said, I didn't connect with this story as much as I wanted to. I didn't feel the themes as deeply as I did in her other books. Which, is not the book's fault, but I want my reviews to reflect my honest experiences with the books I read. Some of the metaphors felt distant and the ending didn't hit me as hard as I think it was designed to. (Again, this is a personal problem rather than a quality problem.)

This mixed in with the fact that many of the scenes made me deeply uncomfortable and that I skipped over a few of the scenes that were...let's just say more adult. I DO NOT recommend this book to a younger audience.
It was the difference between appreciating what this book was trying to convey (which I did) and feeling what it was trying to convey (which, sadly, I did not). There were beautifully written passages, passages that did make a connection. But I felt locked out of just as many of them.
I guess my reading of this book was a lesson in the subjective nature of stories. We bring our personal experiences to everything that we read, and sometimes that means not hitting that magical connection that we've experienced with other books. That doesn't mean we quit stepping into different stories, if anything it should inspire us to take more risks.
I realize that this was less like a review of the book and more like a rambling about my experience with it. But honestly, this is what I have to say about this story. If the premise and synopsis interests you, definitely give it a go. Maybe you'll connect with the depths of this story where I couldn't.

"I savor bitterness - it is born of experience. It is the privilege of one who has truly lived. You, too, must learn to prefer it. After all, when all else is gone, you may still have bitterness in abundance."

"I suppose because it's boring to keep telling stories where people just get born and grow up and get married and die. So they add strange things in, to make it more interesting when a person is born, more satisfying when they get married, sadder when they die."

"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."

"Time is communal...the most purely communal of all commodities. It belongs to us all equally. So why hoard it?"

"They happen because Life consumes everything and Death never sleeps, and between them the world moves. Winter becomes spring. And every once in a while, they act out a strange, sad little pantomime, just to see if anyone has won yet. If the world still moves as it used to...Like a passion play. Like a sacrifice. It is certainly not my fault."

"Everywhere her vision doubled and trebled, and her head sagged with the weight of it. Everything kept occurring all at once, each thing on top of the last."

"She is so stubborn her heart has an argument with her head every time it wants to beat."

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