5 out of 5 StarsWhat an amazing, exquisitely written, and powerful book. Probably one of the best books I've ever read.ReviewMarya Morevna and her affair with Koschei the Deathless and Ivan the Fool is brought to life in this fantastical tale blending Russian folklore and Soviet history. A young Marya retreats into the world of magic during the Russian Revolution, until she is stolen away by none other than Koschei the Deathless. But Koschei, the Tsar of Life, is fighting his own war with Viy, the Tsar of Death – a fight that mirrors the political shifts of Eastern Europe in the early half of the 20th century.I don’t know even what to say about this book because it is perfect. Yes, I’m sure there are faults that, if not blinded by enthusiasm and amour, I would see. But I feel Valente has written a book, much like a classic novel, that transcends its faults. Deathless is a mixture of legend, history, literary study, and fantasy that still manages to be an engrossing read. This novel is so well planned that when I reread the prologue, I caught symbols not introduced or explained until later in the book. The care and planning it must have taken to create this is astounding and Valente is a very careful and intelligent writer. Valente has a deep understanding of fairy tales and uses and manipulates this understanding to create a modern story. For example, she uses repetition, each time changing the adjectives and adverbs to tell the tale of the Russian Revolution – from the Imperial Army to the White Army to, finally, the Red Army. She uses characters recognizable to Russian children to tell the heartbreaking tale of Soviet Russia and the hardships faced underneath Stalin. To illustrate when Russians were forced to share houses after the revolution, domoviye, household spirits in Russian folklore, form committees espousing Leninism. There is also an underlying theme running through the book of the role dominance and submission play in love and marriage. I had jokingly called it BDSM Russian folklore-style in my status updates, but this is intentionally weaved into the story because the original tale is actually kind-of kinky. Marya’s identity and loss of identity, her relationships with Koschei and Ivan revolve around the idea of “Who is to rule?” – a topic brought up by many female mentors in Marya’s life. Marya is not only uncertain of her identity with Koschei and his kingdom of Buyan, but her identity in society in Revolutionary and Soviet Russia – a world where she doesn’t fit in. Marya has to learn to recognize her own power and how to exert her will upon others and her own life if she is to survive Koschei and Soviet Russia.The story is a masterpiece of craft and an understanding of literary predecessors. It also is an emotional and heartbreaking tale as well as a fantastical one. But despite the bleakness of the story (as any story about Soviet Russia is wont to be), there is a glimmer of hope at the end, a promise that magic will not die and that everything is cyclical.It probably helps to have some knowledge of Russian history, folklore, and fairy tales before reading. I have a little knowledge from a class and my own interest in Russian culture and history. I would be curious what a person who doesn’t know much about these topics would think. I feel Valente does a good enough job creating the fantastical world in Deathless that someone unfamiliar with Russian folklore would have fun reading it as strictly a fantasy novel with new creatures. I do think those who are familiar will enjoy seeing how she incorporates various characters and tales (including a quick reference to Vasilisa the Beautiful that made me laugh).Anyone who loves literature and books that deconstruct literature and stories, those who love fantasy, myth, fairy tales, and legend, those who love Russia and Russian history, or just anyone who enjoys a great book, should read this. Deathless is a masterpiece.