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Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente is a retelling of a Russian folktale about the villain Koschei the Deathless and his cunning wife Marya Morevna. This is an old tale of obsession, betrayal, and war  but Valente tells it against the backdrop of the Bolshevik Revolution and the later Siege of Leningrad to give it new life. You don’t need to know the folktale to enjoy it.

Despite the historical side of it, this is still very much a fairytale but more of the Grimm’s style than Disney’s. It is dark, frightening, and gruesome but still manages to be beautiful and magical. Valente’s writing style is lush and poetic, it would still be worth reading even if the story weren’t so compelling. If you have the slightest interest in Russian folklore or history, you will find this fascinating. If you don’t, you will by the end of the story. You might also need to Google a few things while you read to catch all the historical references and Russian words. I can’t recommend Deathless enough, this is the best book I’ve read in a long time.

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