I picked up Catherynne Valente’s novel Deathless at the local Barnes & Noble. I was in a summertime reading-slump (oddly common for me), and the cover caught my attention. I read the first few pages and was so intrigued that I bought it on the spot. Within 24 hours, I was finished with the novel and busy savoring the aftertaste.
Valente’s language is, for lack of a better word, FRESH. Along those lines, refreshing, creative, interesting, unusual. Lovely. I really enjoyed the images of birds who drop from a tree and (thump, bounce) turn into men. The idea of a woman who can see through the thin veil separating the real world from the visible world is interesting, and the incorporation of Russian folklore into the storyline was captivating to me, especially given my personal and professional interest in folklore, mythology, etc.
Speaking of personal and professional interests, I also enjoyed the novel’s more fantastical elements. I couldn’t decide if I thought this was fantasy or magical realism (or some interesting hybrid of the two). The confusion arises from the fact that the novel is set in “our world” (early- to mid-Twentieth Century Russia), grounding itself firmly in politics, monarchies, and revolutions. At the same time, a lot of the story is set on the other side of that “veil” in the realm of fantasy. So for me, it’s some combination of the two.
Perhaps that doesn’t matter very much, though. What matters is that the novel is really good. It’s compelling, it’s a page-turner, and it doesn’t end on a falsely optimistic note. Instead, it ends by beginning all over again….
GOOD FOR: Fantasy aficcionados, readers who love the sound of Russian names and words, and anyone who needs a reminder of how fun it is to not be able to put down the book you’re reading.
BAD FOR: People who love the “happily ever after” ending, traditionalists who don’t appreciate the reinterpretation of folklore, and strict consumers of literary Realism.