The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia (2007. Urban Fantasy. 289 pages)
This book snuck up on me — tiptoeing in through a side door, tapping me on the shoulder, and whispering strange, beautiful secrets in my ear. I was charmed.
Though it takes place in an urban setting infused with magic, Secret History of Moscow is unlike any urban fantasy I’ve ever read. It’s strange, and drifty, and thoughtful. Sad. Dreamlike. In fact, the book is much like the Russian fairytales from which its author draws inspiration.
Set in the chaos of 1990’s Russia, Secret History, tells the story of those who don’t, won’t, or can’t belong. It tells the story of a hidden, underground realm where misfits, magic, and fairytale creatures dwell side by side, ageless and ambiguous. This isn’t a realm of delights any more than it’s a realm of horrors. Like the surface world, it’s hung with a strange, claustrophobic feeling of impending and inescapable sadness.
Enter, Galina, a misfit herself on a quest to discover the fate of her younger sister, Masha. Masha, it seems, has turned into a bird and flown away. Drawn into the narrative (and the search for Masha) are a multitude of sad, lovely, lost souls.
Don’t look for an action-packed plot here. This story is about the sights along the way, not the end point (though Sedia does arrive at a satisfactory and tonally appropriate conclusion, wrapping up all of the hanging plot threads). The writing is quite beautiful and the book a delight, if a slightly mournful one.
Funny, though, for so melancholy a tale, I felt oddly uplifted after having read it. Secret History of Moscow was a pleasure — one I hope you’ll share.