Reading Level: Adult
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Size: 352 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: February 14th, 2012
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: Audiobook from Audible.com
Rating: 5/5 stars
I have been wanting to read this novel by Valente for sometime. She is one of my favorite authors; her writing style is so beautiful that it is like a work of high art. This book was as fantastic as her other books and I really enjoyed it.
I listened to this book on audiobook and it was beautifully done. The narrator did all the different accents and characters incredibly well. It was really a magical listen.
Marya Morevna is a young girl struggling through the troubles that visited Leningrad in the early to mid 1900’s. She watches sister after sister marry young men who were birds in trees before they dropped to the ground. Marya mourns that fact that she has no magic in her life and wonders whens a bird will turn into a young man for her. Then she gets her wish when Koschei the Deathless visits her front door and commands her obedience, kidnapping her as his wife. What follows is a tale of folklore and war; of Russia versus Germany and of Life versus Death.
This book is absolutely beautiful. Valente always writes scenes and descriptions that feel like they could jump off of the pages and come to life. The descriptions are lush and beautiful and dark and delicious.
I don’t know a lot about Russian mythology, but I know a lot more about reading this book. I also know a lot more about the horror of what the denizens of Leningrad went through especially during the Leningrad Blockade of the early 1940’s.
Marya is one of the most tragic and heroic heroines I have ever read about. She goes through so many transformations in this story. She is the young girl trying to see magic in a bleak world, a young maiden waiting for her groom, a seasoned wife supporting her husband’s war, an adultress, an old woman. She is the Queen of Life and the victim of death. Really she is amazing.
Koshay is also fascinating. In the beginning he is such an overwhelming character to Marya, until she gets to understand him better. He is cruel and he is the Tsar of Life, yet he is restricted by his own mythology and his own Deathless status.
As with many of Valente’s book some of the ideas are ambiguous and time is fluid. The book is quite the journey and I can say by the end I felt I had traveled years with Marya and suffered with her.
The biggest downside of this book is all of the Russian terms and names. They are beautiful but very hard to follow for a non-Russian speaker. Part of this might have been the fact that I listened to this book instead of read it, but I had a lot of trouble keeping some of the names straight in the beginning of the book. This might have been easier if I had seen the words instead of heard them.
Overall an absolutely stunning read and highly recommended. There is so much in here about life and death and about war and love. Just so much food for thought. Not to mention it is an absolutely beautifully written story. I also enjoyed learning about all of the history behind the Leningrad Blockade, it was so sad and I glad that it’s story is told here. Highly recommended to everyone and especially to Valente fans.