I finished Catherynne Valente's Deathless, actually, two days ago. I'd been reading more and more slowly, so I wouldn't get to the end, because I didn't want it to end. Not, I hasten to say, because I wanted to stretch out the experience of the Siege of Leningrad--that I could hardly bear, it felt so very vivid and personal, emotionally and physically draining. But because the experience of reading about the life and loves and deaths of Marya Morevna and the characters around her was so rich and strange and mind-expanding. This book has things to say about the effect of extreme experience and suffering on individual men and women that all the intrigues and battles and high body-counts of high adventure fantasy sagas do not--or if they do, I can't hear them for the noise and bustle. Anyway, I made it last as long as I could. And then I finished it, and couldn't write about it because all I wanted to do was burble, and a burble isn't a review.
And then I thought, well, better burble than silence. It's not like this is a professional gig or anything. And you do want to say something.
So. I loved Deathless (you probably guessed). I loved it for many reasons, but many of them can be summed up by saying that it's a fairy tale that puts paid to the notion that fairy tales are escapist. It anatomizes war and love and hunger and loss in this world and the world of legend, and finds them more alike than you'd think. It is also very funny. Even Koschei himself, Valente's never-dying, ever-dying villain/romantic lead, has a fine and mordant sense of humor that made me love him almost as much as Marya Morevna did. Come to think of it, making the unhuman human, uncovering the vulnerable hearts and complex souls of the monstrous, is one of Valente's super-powers. Her command of metaphor and cadence is another. I love all her books, but this one, I think, is the one that speaks most directly to the themes and images that are important to me. I can't wait to see what she does next.