I was immediately sucked into this story. The author uses the tumultuous period following the USSR's collapse as the backdrop for her wonderful tale. She creates an unforgettable atmosphere by blending political, social, and mythological elements of Russia's past and present. Add to that Sedia's deft hand at characterization, an historian eye for details, and a definite human touch, and you end up with a novel that is nothing short of remarkable. As an ex-Muscovite, Ekaterina Sedia imbues her plotlines with thoughful insight, offering us a glimpse of what it was like when Russia was ushered into its capitalist epoch.
Galina is a young woman supposedly suffering from mental problems. When her "normal" sister Masha turns into a bird and flies away after giving birth in their small apartment's bathroom, Galina will stop at nothing to find her and get her back. Teaming up with Yakov, a policeman investigating an increasing number of disappearances throughout the city, she will take the man to see Fyodor, an artist who claims to know where the people changing into birds are going. Together, they will stumble upon an underground world of magic, where pagan gods, fairytale creatures, and exiles from the surface live in relative peace, underneath the very streets of Moscow.
As original as The Secret History of Moscow is, it's the cast of characters which gives this book all of its flavor. Sedia truly excels at characterization, and after a few short lines you'll feel as though you've been reading about Galina, Fyodor, Yakov, Oksana, and the others for chapters. With a human touch similar to that of Robin Hobb, the author's characters come to life in an effortless manner which is almost disconcerting. Through their POVs, we are exposed to a political and social commentary which explores the various facets underlying that Russian period of transition.
In addition, the way with which Ekaterina Sedia weaves myths and historical nuggets into the storylines generates a sense of wonder that should delight even the most jaded of readers.
With beautiful prose throughout, The Secret History of Moscow is at times magical and whimsical, and at times dark and moody. A bittersweet and emotional ending brings this one to a satisfying close. All in all, Ekaterina Sedia created what should be one of the most enchanting reads of the year.
The comparisons between Sedia and Neil Gaiman are entirely appropriate. The Secret History of Moscow is to Moscow what Gaiman's Neverwhere was to London. Still, I believe that it offers a lot more, on virtually every level. Don't get me wrong: Neverwhere was a splendid read. I just feel that The Secret History of Moscow has everything that made Neverwhere such a treat -- and then some!
Ekaterina Sedia will be an author to watch, especially since she has another novel, The Alchemy of Stone, on the way later this year. To learn more about Sedia and her work, Larry (Dylanfanatic) interviewed her on wotmania.com. Check out the Q&A here.
Do yourself a favor and read this one!
The final verdict: 8.5/10