A stand-alone (urban) fantasy set in Russia.
Publication year: 2007
Publisher: Prime Books
Galina is a young woman and she lives in Moscow with her sister and mother. She also suffers from schizophrenia and so her mother doesn’t like her much. They eke out an existence near poverty. Galina works as a translator for a local newspaper. Galina’s sister Masha is pregnant and at the start of the book she gives birth in their bathroom. Afterward, she’s mysteriously gone even though the only way out is a small window high up. A crow sits in the windowsill and Galina tries very hard not to think that it is her sister. But Masha is gone and Galina is afraid to report it. However, when Fyodor, street artist, tells her that he has seen people turning into birds, Galina realizes that it might have happened for real and persuades the artist to help her.
Yakov is a police officer, but he works at a desk and not as a hotshot detective. He lives with his mother who tends the graves of her parents. One day, he sees a man turn into a bird right in front of him. At first he thinks that he’s going crazy but then he’s assigned to investigate disappearances; all over Moscow poor people are vanishing.
Fyodor is a poor, alcoholic, homeless artist who is afraid of gypsies because his mother used to frighten him about them. He knows that reflections of doors can lead to real places. He, Galina, and Yakov step into a door’s reflection and end up in another world. In that world Russian fairy tale characters and real people who have turned into myths come to life. Also, a few disappeared people live there but to her disappointment, Galina doesn’t find her sister. However, she continues the search.
“The Golem and the Jinni” is somewhat similar in structure to this book because they both spend time telling the backstories of new characters shortly after they arrive into the story. However, because “the Secret History of Moscow” is a much shorter book, the stories feel like they take up quite a lot of space in the middle section of the book. I found them fascinating but someone looking for epic fantasy type action would probably be disappointed. The pace of the book changes to quite slow in the middle of the story.
All of the main and the secondary characters feel three dimensional to me; knowing their backstories certainly helped with that. I’m not familiar with the fairy characters but they seemed very interesting.
All of the main characters come from poor backgrounds; they all come from broken homes and are afraid of the gangs. None of them seem to have many friends; Galina especially seems a really lonely character. The book left a very melancholy feel.