The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia

Discovering November
This month's titles all have an element of discovery. The characters are finding new places, lost items, recovering memories, learning who you really are inside, and the road traveled to get there. Some are sad, some are action-packed, some are wacky...but all of us makes discoveries every day.

In the style of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, this book holds a secret. Things seem to be lacking color in Galina's life. She is stagnating at her job, but she has one. She lives with her sister, who is pregnant. Some part of her resents her sister for choosing a normal life, and a family. Until the day when her sister becomes a bird before her eyes. Can this be happening? Galina knows what she saw, but she also knows that no one will believe her...until she meets Yakov.

Yakov is a police officer in Moscow, he's been dealing with more and more missing persons cases lately. At first, he thought it was the gangs. Then he sees someone turn into a bird. Sound familiar? With each other to prove their sanity, the two begin to look for what could be causing people to transform. They meet Fyodor, a common street bum, and together they find their way into the Underground. It seems that things that disappear, or fall out of favor, or were thought to only exist in myth actually DO exist in the Underground. Yakov's grandfather, Peter, believed to be dead is the proprietor of a pub. Several Russian deities, names of legend, even a soldier from the time of Ghengis Khan all live peacefully, for the most part, in the Underground. The other strange part? Everyone lives forever, exactly in the state they arrived. Yakov's grandfather is around his age.

When news of the disappearing people reaches the Underground, the word gets out to Zemun, creator of the Milky Way (who, it turns out, is a cow). Along with several other creatures of myth and history, they form a party to figure out who or what may be responsible. Soon, practically everyone is involved. A group is sent back to the surface when they realize that someone from the Underground must be collaborating with someone from the real world. The climax moves quickly, and the characters are well-written.

The colorful cast of characters from Russian folklore bring an element of interest, although without a background knowledge of them myself, I fear I missed out on some of the references. This would be a great text to use in tandem with exploring Russian history and myths. As it is technically an adult book, and not written exclusively for a teen audience, it may be a little dense at times. I recommend it for an older teen, or an experienced reader.
"He was still wide awake when the morning came - the light changed imperceptibly underground, with the glowtrees flaring up brightly, and the shimmer of golden dust that remained suspended in the musty air, as if millions of butterflies had shed the scales of their wings in midair." (Sedia, 2007).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Alchemy of Stone by Ekaterina Sedia
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Sedia, Ekaterina. (2007). The Secret History of Moscow. Prime: Rockville, MD.

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