Monday, August 3, 2009

According to Crow, according to me

In earlier Guys Lit Wire reviews I praised Ekaterina Sedia's novels The Secret History of Moscow and The Alchemy of Stone. I've just tracked down her first novel, written as "E. Sedia," According to Crow. It's every bit as good as the other two, and completely different at the same time. It also makes it easier to see the recurring themes that make her novels so unique and powerful.

Josiah is seventeen and sticks out like a sore thumb. His mother is a village celebrity for her courageous act eighteen years earlier when she beheaded a conquering general; Josiah's appearance nine months later explained exactly how she got close enough to do it. Always an outcast due to his physical resemblance to their dark-skinned enemies, Josiah jumps at the chance to visit his late father's family on peaceful terms, under the protection of his monastic uncle Caleb. His fellow travelers are Mireille, Thuraya and young archivist Crow, a pre-industrial Johnny Mnemonic who memorizes vast stretches of history.

Josiah experiences every young man's fantasy on the journey: he falls in love with Mireille, the beautiful older woman who protects Crow, and has a wild fling with Thuraya, the young, free-loving priestess. Caleb becomes the father figure he never had, and Crow the little brother. But big events are on the horizon, forcing Josiah to make choices about duty, love, loss, family and his own place in the world.

The things Sedia does well in her other two books are especially evident here, where the story and societal background are more genre-traditional. Her dialogue is sharp and contemporary, but never to a distracting degree. Her characters are vivid and behave like real people. The book is told in first person, and she makes Josiah a strong narrator whose emotions easily become the reader's own.

What's different here is the degree of drama Josiah goes through on his journeys. Both Secret History and Alchemy built gradually and smoothly to powerful conclusions, but there are several climaxes in Josiah's story, which stick with the reader the same way they do Josiah. One passage especially will haunt me, I suspect, for quite some time. In a way it's a more "typical" fantasy book, at least in structure, and might be a more comfortable read for those who like their fantasy traditional.

Amazingly, this 2005 book is already out of print; I got mine from the local library. But I can't recommend it highly enough. If you enjoyed The Alchemy of Stone and The Secret History of Moscow, this is a remarkably different, but no less fascinating, aspect of her considerable talent.

According to me.

SPECIAL OFFER: Ms. Sedia has a few copies of According to Crow she's making available to Guys Lit Wire readers. E-mail her at, mention this offer and get the hardcover (signed and personalized) for $20 including shipping.


Fish Monkey said...

Thanmks for a great review! BTW, to buy this book you can just go to and scroll down to the Paypal button.

mr chompchomp said...

Thanks Alex. Based on your recommendation, I'm reading Alchemy of Stone now. Beautiful book. Thanks.

Now it looks like I need to add another to the "To Read" list.

Alex Bledsoe said...

ChompChomp, I agree with you wholeheartedly. One day I hope to hit all the right strokes with a book as well as she does with Alchemy of Stone.