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The Secret History of Moscow

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  1,410 ratings  ·  242 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 303 pages
Published December 3rd 2007 by Wildside Press (first published November 1st 2007)
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Average rating 3.40  · 
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 ·  1,410 ratings  ·  242 reviews

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Feb 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of Cat Valente
The Secret History of Moscow is, judging by the wide range of reviews, the literary equivalent of an optical illusion:


You might read it and feel disconnected from the characters, as if you were living in a grey ice-slushy day with errands to run that mean wet boots and snow down your neck. Or you might read it and see the characters as part of a cultural mosaic, set against the background of gentle, fat flakes of snow falling out of a soft grey sky, the air crisp and fresh. The first time I read
Jun 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: butcher birds
Recommended to Mariel by: Mariel the horrible
I really want to talk about crack babies to talk about how I feel about this book. That's what I'm thinking about. "Mariel, they are born into a disrupted world and missing a chemical/spiritual/whatever balance..." and then I think crack babies 'cause my attention span is shot and I'm a half thought kinda person on good days.

I'd take a picture of my mind map and the connect the dots if I could. (They show a picture of a dog's head when joined! Because that's what my mind thinks of when it
Small Creek
Mar 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
The Secret History of Moscow reads like a fusion of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and American Gods, only set in Moscow and populated by Slavic deities.

On the one hand I can't say that I'm much enamoured by any of our protagonists, which is not to say that they are not good characters. They are, in fact, rather well-written individuals with layers of personality and lots of spirit--I just happen not to like any of them. As always, I've fallen for the minor league players. It's doubly more fascinating
Ben Babcock
I don’t know a lot about Moscow, or even Russia in general. If I had more free time, I would devote some of it to feeling guilty for this gap in my knowledge. Some day I might even get around to rectifying it by reading some informative books on the subject, rather than fantasy (which, I’m given to understand, is not always 100% factual—odd, that). But not today! No, today I’ll talk about The Secret History of Moscow, in all its dark and magical glory.

Ekaterina Sedia writes fairy tales. The
colleen the convivial curmudgeon

When I saw the reviews for this book I saw it discussed as a mixture of Neverwhere and American Gods - two books I love from Neil Gaiman. And while the comparison is a fair one when it comes to the premise of the story, it doesn't really live up to the comparison in execution.

I wanted to love this book. It's right up my alley, and it's a book that I should've loved, but while it was interesting, it just sort of fell flat. I think mostly it's because the characters never seemed really
Jan 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fantastical, russian
I really wanted to like this, but I just couldn't do it. The concept sounded fascinating--people turning into jackdaws, a hidden mythological underground, Russian folklore--but it was such a pain to read. Galina was obnoxious, and there wasn't enough to the other characters to give them anything. And she can't write dialogue. This was probably some of the worst dialogue I've read in a while. The prose and the descriptions of what people felt was okay, but the dialogue and even action sequences ...more
It does help to have either a knowledge of Russian Fairy Tales or a source to look them up in when reading this book.

That said, this is a good book. Sedia tells the story of Galina who is looking for her missing sister. It is wonderful to read a fairy tale influenced novel where the women actually get along and where sisters like each. Kate Crackernuts is another fairy story where the sisters are friends and not rivals.

Sedia does an excellent job of mixing fantasy and real people. Her idea that
Dec 09, 2014 marked it as zzz-books-not-for-me  ·  review of another edition
DNF, 30%
Read on May 05, 2015
Not my cup of tea. I am a huge fan of Slavic Myths and legends, but this book was slightly too dark and depressing. I expected more magic, more wonder, more of a fairy-tale feel to it. Why cruel World? Why?
Jan 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
The Secret History of Moscow
Ekaterina Sedia
Prime Books

Kat Sedia's "new" book, (it came out sometime in 2007, but my reading schedule is slow as molasses) The Secret History of Moscow, is an intriguing novel about set in both the normal world of Moscow in the 1990s and in the strange underworld beneath it where both mythical figures from Moscow's past rub shoulders with Muscovites and visitors from many eras. When Maria, the sister of the main character Galina mysteriously turns into a jackdaw
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Apr 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011
I loved it, I'm even tempted to rate it closer to a 9/10. Probably it was easier for me, a native of Eastern Europe, to relate with the slavic mythological characters and with the post communist social commentary and this familiarity probably made me rate it higher than if this were set in a western / capitalist metropolis. Anyway, I find the style of Sedia very appealing to my tastes after Secret History and Alchemy of Stone, and I will be looking forward to her next books.
Nicholas Karpuk
Dec 18, 2008 rated it liked it
I have yet to read a book by a Russian author that has all that many nice things to say about Russia or Russians. Something in the character of their artists just seems to provoke statements in the genre of, "You know what wrong with this place?" Having never been to the country, I'm uncertain what colors that world view.


It's strange after reading a sword n' horses fantasy for me to actually encounter a book that could have used more pages.

"The Secret History of Moscow" is a book about
Arun Divakar
Dec 03, 2011 rated it liked it
The name is quite an enigmatic one don't you think ? The secret history of Moscow makes you think of mythology & strange creatures, the backdrop of the Onion shaped domes of the Kremlin providing an ambience that few can match and so forth. What I have described above is true in parts when applied to this story but as a whole it is unsatisfying a dish !

At one glance it is a good mix of Gaiman's American Gods & Neverwhere . There is a world beneath our dwellings and populated by the
Dec 27, 2007 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. The idea of an underground world populated by fantastic and folklorish creatures has been done before to great success (Neverwhere by Gaiman comes to mind, among many others), but I didn't find too much that was particularly distinctive or engaging about Sedia's prose. This is set in Moscow in the 1990's, and the goings-on in the book are very tied to Russia's atmosphere of the time. That was very interesting to me, along with the various ...more
I agree with those who expected more of this book. Let me explain what I thought was wrong with it. There's lots of folklore in this book, but it has no depth or vitality. It was like a mythology cartoon. It seemed to me as if the author herself had no real connection with any of it. The way to make it real is to show us a context in which the old Gods and Goddesses had real meaning in people's lives and weren't just folklore. Show us the way people lived with their deities. At one point, Galina ...more
Clare O'Beara
This book has its merits, but the writer's style is to ramble, introduce many sequential characters and give their backstory at once, then have them all go to the pub. I don't think anyone gets frightened during this adventure, not even when they realise that they are not in Moscow any more but some underworld. Because they are not frightened, nor are we.

The tale starts well enough in a Moscow tenement, with a young woman turning into a jackdaw - maybe - and her mother and sister searching for
Jan 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Rusalki i kulturnyh
Recommended to Alan by: Subsequent work
"You know how they say the grass is always greener on the other side? It is greener, because you're not there. And if you go you'll trample it and leave dirty footprints and probably spill something poisonous."

Some people make the mistake of thinking that magic is stronger than science, older and more powerful, but we city-dwellers know that magic is a fragile thing, easily driven away or trampled underfoot by unthinking humanity. When magic is attacked, it retreats, into the high places,
Eva Müller
This review can also be found on my blog

The blurb makes it sound like a relatively ordinary fantasy novel: protagonist sets out to find a disappeared loved one and discovers a magical world. But it’s not quite. Usually, in these kinds of set-ups, the protagonists take a long time to accept that there is really something supernatural going on. Here, it takes Galina, Yakov, and Fyodor three chapters until they decide that all the disappeared people must have turned into birds and crossed through a
May 16, 2012 marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kevin by: Kim
Nope, had to abandon it - 80-something pages in and no spark for me whatsoever. I think Sedia needs an editor, or one that's more attentive than whoever worked on this one. Everything was jammed together with no purpose, no pacing. The perfunctory and joyless introduction of the three protagonists felt rushed, as if she thought she had to get all of their back stories out at the very beginning. "Here is Person A and her entire history up to now. Here is Person B and his entire history up to now. ...more
Paul Eckert
Apr 16, 2010 rated it liked it
The Secret History of Moscow was like a cross between Neil Gaiman's American Gods and The Inferno.

The premise: Galina's sister turns into a jackdaw after giving birth. Her pursuit of the truth leads her into a mystical underworld where Russian legends, fables, and ordinary citizens have wound up after being forgotten or detached from the world.

Every character has an interesting history, and this provides some of the best storytelling in the story. We get to meet characters of Russian folklore
Mar 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Sean by: Laura Llew
Shelves: non-us, fantasy
It is the early nineties in Moscow, and reality seems to be thinning and winding down along with communism. People are disappearing, transformed into birds before the eyes of their loved ones; strange passages to another world are opening around the city, glimpsed in reflections and dark buildings; and legends seem to be coming to life. Three people are drawn through one of these passages: Galina, whose sister gave birth and then turned into a jackdaw; Yakov, a policeman who wants to believe ...more
Aug 25, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Stay away.
Shelves: fantasy
What a great idea! Moscow has a hidden underground world, populated with many mythic figures as well as some lucky people from the surface (our world). Something is going on though, people have started to disappear...

Unfortunately I couldn't get into the story. First of all I didn't like the way how the background of the characters is told. It's not cleverly interwoven into the story, no, there is always a clear cut and the reader is presented with all the facts (usually closely related to some
else fine
Jan 26, 2008 rated it did not like it
Could have used better editing - it felt a lot like trying to read a long Mad Lib. Maybe I'll try it again sometime when I'm feeling more patient, as it's gotten a lot of good reviews.
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
I liked the first half of the book more than the second. Why did they turn people into birds...? Does it really matter.
Obviously not, and that's the vague feeling I have about this book. The plot could have been great but it just leads nowhere. Slavic mythology isn't something new to me so those bits of the book can't improve my overall rating.
Only information I will remeber about this book if I ever pick it up again will be...oh there were some birds and the communism is over.
This book is like a weird mix between Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere and Katherine Arden's The Bear And The Nightingale. It's bittersweet and beautiful with a dark grimness that isn't hopeless, but definitely toes the line.

I seriously loved everything about this book and I'm sure I'll be re-reading this one in the future. Only warning I have is that there are some slightly graphicish self harm parts, but there aren't very many of them.
Sean Parson
Nov 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
This read like a russian themed version of Neil all the good ways. A must read if you are interested in russian folk lore and/or books that link myth, folklore and speculative fiction. really well written and great book.
Nov 04, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
After hearing a heap of praise for her novel The Alchemy of Stone, as well as an anthology she edited, Running with the Pack, I decided I should keep an eye out for Sedia's name on the spines of books. So when I had the opportunity to snag a copy of the new paperback release of The Secret History of Moscow, I did.

One of the front cover blurbs is by Neil Gaiman, in which he compares this book to his own fantasy tale, Neverwhere. As a fan of Gaiman's work, and having read Secret History now, I can
Emil Söderman
If there's one word I would use to describe this book it's "Gaimanesque". (And the fact that this word exists amuses me greatly) It reads a bit like a russian American Gods crossed with Neverwhere, although far less glamorous than either of those. It is the story of how about of broken-down russians gets involved in a supernatural conspiracy and end the story just as broken as when they began it.

The story draws heavily on russian history (of which I caught most of it) and fairy tales (which I
Matt Troedson
Jan 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book and can't wait to get started on Alchemy of Stone.

I think what stuck with me most was the characters' love of "Moscow of the past." The old homes and buildings that made up the city center where only the privileged few lived. The transition from "Past Moscow" to the concrete and utilitarian "Soviet Moscow" was apparent in the characters' memories of their childhoods and how as we move to adulthood we are somehow robbed of our childhood beliefs and ideas. Finally to a
This book does what Neil Gaiman says (rather modestly) "does for Moscow what I tried to do for London in "Neverwhere" -- it's about the "hidden" world of Moscow. For Gaiman, it was London Below as versus London above. Very few people could enter these wonderful worlds of imagination unless the writer writes the story as if "London Below or Moscow Below" (for lack of a better term) were excellent writers. It's a true joy to suspend one's disbelief with Neil Gaiman --- and I liked "The Secret ...more
this book wasn't bad. it was similar to neverwhere except set in moscow (neil gaiman does the byline on the cover and says as much) and i liked it for the same reasons i like neverwhere. it felt like a lot of the other russian lit i've read-- a little stark, a little spare, but darkly interesting. i also enjoy the changing points of view, giving us a bit of backstory on everyone. i know as the reader i was meant to sympathize with galina, but honestly the populace of the underground were my ...more
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Ekaterina Sedia is also credited as E. Sedia.
“You know how they say the grass is always greener on the other side? It is greener, because you're not there. And if you go you'll trample it and leave dirty footprints and probably spill something poisonous.” 16 likes
“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.” 3 likes
More quotes…