Book Review: The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia

Title: The Secret History of Moscow

Author: Ekaterina Sedia

Genre: Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Fiction, Russia, Magical Realism, Mystery

Publisher: Prime Books

Published: December 3, 2007

Page Amount: 303 pages

Goodreads Summary: Every city contains secret places. Moscow in the tumultuous 1990s is no different, its citizens seeking safety in a world below the streets — a dark, cavernous world of magic, weeping trees, and albino jackdaws, where exiled pagan deities and faerytale creatures whisper strange tales to those who would listen. Galina is a young woman caught, like her contemporaries, in the seeming lawlessness of the new Russia. In the midst of this chaos, her sister Maria turns into a jackdaw and flies away — prompting Galina to join Yakov, a policeman investigating a rash of recent disappearances. Their search will take them to the underground realm of hidden truths and archetypes, to find themselves caught between reality and myth, past and present, honor and betrayal . . . the secret history of Moscow.

Why I Read:  Magical realism is my sucker word. If it’s somewhat relevant to some kind of magic version of reality, I absolutely adore it without question. There’s something so cool about building a world based very closely on our own with only a couple differences. Part of what I loved especially about this concept was the inclusion of fables and fairytales of Russian origin. Having taken Russian Literature courses through college, I love the disturbing twists and stories about Baba Yaga and Koschei the Deathless.

Review: Let’s be perfectly honest: I have a soft spot for creepy fairy tales, especially Russian ones. The Russian soul and spirit is somewhat dramatic, and filled with villains (devious and curious alike). It fits the tale perfectly. The Secret History of Moscow was in all of my wheelhouses. On the surface, it reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere – where a world existed beyond the normal Moscow, where something was different.

As per usual, there’s the problem of the protagonist: Galina. Her sister Maria has turned into a jackdaw and flown away. However, I found that that I wasn’t particularly interested in how they retrieved the lost sister. Instead, I wanted to know about how the various characters had been sent into the under-Moscow. I wanted a encyclopaedia-style description of the first person who entered the underground realm, why did forgotten people find their ways there? What qualified a person to find it versus another? How do we separate desperation from actual need?

The way that Sedia brought each fable and each new Koschei into existence was magical. I absolutely loved how the current state of Russia was described as well. It was one of those lovely magical realism books which didn’t ignore the harsh reality of “normal life.” How could she? Galina herself could be a bit irritating at times, but ultimately her aim was for the greater good. I especially loved how the writing style associated with Galina’s thought. It had a musical quality and a sense of unfortunate acceptance of life. Classic Russian Literature.

Ultimately, I enjoyed this book for the writing and for the references it provided. It was beautifully written and if you are at all a fan of Russian characters – you may in fact, love this book.

Favourite Quote: “There was an expectation she learned in her childhood that the universe was essentially predictable, even if the life didn’t always work out the way it was supposed to.”

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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