Though it takes place in an urban setting infused with magic, SECRET HISTORY OF MOSCOW is unlike any urban fantasy I’ve 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. It’s a morally ambiguous place in between, and like the surface world, it’s hung with a strange, claustrophobic feeling of impending and inescapable sadness.
Enter, Galina, a misfit 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. In some sense, this book could be considered a ‘band of heroes’ quest, except none of the characters are really heroes — a fact which only makes them more likeable and endearing.
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, and one I hope you’ll share.