#2 – Deathless, by Catherynne M. Valente
Koschei the Deathless is by far by the most interesting and charismatic monster I have ever met, and I can’t help but feel that I was changed more by that meeting than by most of my meetings with fellow humans. In Deathless, Chatherynne M. Valente brings traditional Russian folklore together with a frighteningly real portrayal of Russia in 1920-1940. The story that is created is full of monsters, creatures and communist radicals, and it is also achingly poignant, stealing the #2 spot on this list.
Valente’s writing is viciously poetic, pushing the limits of prose. I adore her style, and it lends itself beautifully to the pain she invokes with her heart wrenching tale. Her creatures and worlds are unapologetic. Koschei’s armies are woven and stitched together, so they can never join the army of the Tsar of Death, and the walls of his home are living flesh, pulsing and breathing all around them. The adventures of Marya, Koschei’s human bride, through this fantastical world are fascinating, and Valente’s imagination runs wild, as it always does. At first it is beautiful, and although it is frightening, it is excitingly so. But when Marya is alone in that world, without Koschei at her side, it turns dark and cold. She shivers in a terrifying winter of famine.
Catherynne was guaranteed a spot on this list from the first moment I thought of it, and in the end, it had to be Deathless. There are just so many monsters to choose from, and they’re all so deliciously flawed. They’re so human and real, and yet so far away. And Koschei. Koschei is like nothing I have ever seen before, the Tsar of Life, with heart wrenching cruelty and a keen mind for battle, bound forever to his own story. His sadomasochistic relationship with Marya is hypnotizing, gripping, and the visceral landscape they exist in is unforgettable. Deathless not only delivers a flawless narrative, it makes a loud and resounding statement about the things that we do to our fellow man. And for that reason, Deathless takes the #2 spot on my Halloween Monster Story Countdown.