Now this is urban fantasy - not a vampire or werewolf alpha male in sight. I like the odd paranormal romance, but it tends to irk me when they get tagged as urban fantasy. Just because it happens in a city, doesn't mean you get to call it urban fantasy. </end rant>
The Secret History of Moscow was a delightful book. I had seen it promoted at last year's WisCon and bought on impulse when I was picking up some Weird Tales magazines. I'm glad that I did. I suspect what I loved most about the book was that it was so different than most that I have read in this genre. Ekaterina Sedia's narrative voice is lovely - her descriptions are vivid and striking but she keeps things clean and moves the story along at a good pace.
Set in Moscow in the 1990's, the story begins with Galina, young emotionally damaged woman, whose sister is mysteriously transformed into a crow (jackdaw) after giving birth to her child. Yakov, a disillusioned police officer, and Fyodor, an alcoholic street artist, are the only ones that believe her and as they investigate what is going on, they end up "underground". What they find there is a world where outcasts, the displaced or people who no longer have a place in the world above end up. They meet characters from Russian folklore, people from other eras and every one of them has a story. As they search for explanations of what is happening, Sedia weaves stories of the Decembrists wife, a young gypsy girl and others into a fascinating glimpse of Russian history and folklore. The story and its settings are gritty and real. The main characters are damaged in various ways and don't seem to be able to find their place in the new Moscow. There is no Utopia - not in the past, not in the underground world and certainly not in the city streets.
My only wish for this book is that it was longer. I would have loved it if it had been about 600 pages. I would have like to have seen more of the folklore characters - they were fascinating and left me with so many questions (I'm digging out my Russian Fairy Tale anthology and googling a number of the characters and story references) that I'd love answered. I would also have loved to see more of Galina, Yakov and Fyodor. There could have been a bit more to the plot that was pushing the characters forward - the end of the book is very satisfying (and unexpected), but I thought the plot of why people were being transformed could have been explained in a more satisfactory manner - I know who, but not really the why. Of course this plot was only the vehicle that got the characters together and moved them through the underground world. The strength of the book was the characters and their individual stories.
Over the next couple of months, I'll be delving into the anthology she edited, Paper Cities, which promises to have some good urban fantasy shorts. That should keep me busy enough until her next book, Alchemy of Stone, is released.