“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 misty air, as if millions of butterflies had shed the skins of their wings in midair.”
~ from The Secret History of Moscow
Every once in a while I’ll run across an author who puts language together in amazing ways. Ekaterina Sedia is one of them. I can’t remember how I originally heard about The Secret History of Moscow, but once I owned it (a gift from a friend), I couldn’t put it down.
The story is set both in Moscow in the 1990s and in this underground world beneath Moscow, which holds strange and remarkable figures from Russian folklore. When Galina’s sister turns into a jackdaw and flies away, Galina follows her… all the way to this strange underground place. As she proceeds on her journey, the reader learns, not just about her, but about the stories of some of the characters she meets along the way. What drew me in was not just the story itself, but the way it is told. Sedia has an incredible way of creating images with her words, as the quote above shows. I also loved that ending of the story was unexpected, yet completely fitting for the protagonist and the plot.
Sedia’s The Alchemy of Stone is in what might be called the “steampunk” genre – Victorian setting with a highly mechanized culture. Mattie is a clockwork automaton created by Loharri, a Mechanist. Throughout the book, Mattie wants to become an Alchemist, who are at odds with the Mechanists. Loharri is unwilling to allow her this freedom, and holds her captive with the key that winds her heart and keeps her functioning. Wrapped up in the story is the revolution of the under-classes, called the Spiders, and the gargoyles who ask for Mattie’s help to keep from turning to stone. Mattie struggles both for freedom and to understand who she can trust.
“We suddenly feel fearful and apprehensive, naked in our perishable flesh, and for just a moment we wish we could go back to being stone—crumbling in death rather than rotting, trapped inside an immobile prison of stone rather than reduced to immaterial souls like those that now rattled within our skulls. The moment passes. There is no point in regretting irreversible decisions—one has to live with them, and we try.”
~ from The Alchemy of Stone