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Let the Dead Bury the Dead

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Let the Dead Bury the Dead is a stunningly written historical novel, a story of a fictional attempted-revolution inspired by some of Russia’s real history. Epstein is, frankly, a word-wizard; her prose is absolutely gorgeous, and she knows exactly how to spin language into a spell that’ll make you ache for the beauty of it. Case in point: I don’t read a lot of historical fiction, and I definitely don’t read historical fiction about brutally cold places – not at all my favourite kind of setting! – but my gods, I just couldn’t resist Epstein’s writing.

Or the sheer amount of yearning in this book, all of which is queer, all of which cuts like a blade of crystallized honey. If there were awards given out for Feels, Epstein would take home the gold. My gods!

My favourite parts were the rewritten (or completely original?) fairytales Epstein included, which more or less divided the book into Parts. I adored those – some of them were even queer! – and I would happily devour a short story collection, if Epstein decided to write one. Especially if she wanted to write a collection of folklore-ish stories. Honestly, I would say Let the Dead Bury the Dead is worth it just for those handful of fairytales, but pretty much everything else about this book is also fantastic.

The characters are so believably complex, as is the situation; Epstein perfectly captures the need for and passion of revolution, and how easy it is for that to go wrong, or be misled – or maybe it would be better to say, how easy it is for that to be poisoned, by forceful personalities. By which I really mean Sofia, the maybe-maybe-not vila (a kind of nature spirit/faerie analogue from Slavic mythology), who burns like ice at the heart of this novel. Usually I find it frustrating when authors won’t commit to confirming whether or not the fantastical elements are in fact fantastical…but a) I was pretty satisfied that Sofia wasn’t human, and b) even if she was, she’s still a powerfully compelling character, drawing everyone and everything into her web of manipulation. She’s charismatic in a way that characters are often described as being, but often doesn’t come through to the reader; here, Epstein absolutely pulled it off. Sofia’s the kind of character you can’t look away from, even when your smarter self is screaming to get the hell away from her!

My one real hesitation with this story was with Marya’s sexuality; in the beginning, she seemed to be on the ace spectrum (and in a happy sapphic relationship despite that, which delighted me!) Obviously, there are plenty of ace people who still enjoy sex, but it’s made pretty clear that Marya is not one of them. And yet, she has several intensely sexual encounters with Sofia. I wasn’t really sure how to take that – is it more proof that Sofia isn’t human, and is seducing Marya magically? Did Epstein mishandle her asexual rep? Or can we just hand-wave it as ‘sexuality is complicated’, which is, after all, perfectly true? I’m ace myself, and just…wasn’t sure what the takeaway was supposed to be.

Regardless, this is a seriously great book that I strongly recommend to anyone who likes historical fiction in this time period/setting, especially if they’d also like complicated queer love and yearning.

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such an incredible book! What I love most about this book is the tender heart at the center. It is a desire to be someone.
I very much felt at its heart that the writing style would be an alternate history with speculative elements, the story feels very real and humane. If you like Babel by R.F. Kuang or In Memoriam by Alice Winn, you'll find a similar kind of heartache and catharsis here.

Loved this novel so much Epstein is becoming one of my favorite authors. She wrote the amazing novel A Hangman's Tale exploring Christopher Marlowe's life.

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Allison Epstein is one of the authors I'm most excited about. I was utterly entranced with her debut novel, A Tip for the Hangman, so when I heard that she had another book coming out, I couldn't get my hands on it fast enough. Her follow up, Let the Dead Bury the Dead, definitely didn't disappoint. Set in an imperial Russia facing the first sparks of revolution, it casts a spell that pulls you completely into its world. Epstein is such a talented writer, and there were sections of this book that felt so magical, I read them over and over again hoping to get some insight into the uncanny ability she has of stringing words together and crafting scenes of immense beauty. I didn't feel that the peripheral characters here shined as much as the ones in her first book, but I enjoyed this story so much and can't wait to see what she puts out next.

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This advance reader copy was provided by NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. I am a big fan of Allison Epstein, as I really enjoyed her debut novel "A Tip For the Hangman".

However, I didn't care for this novel as much as I was hoping. I thought the male characters were fascinating and their relationship was truly the best part of the story. But the mystery and the magical elements felt as if they were dropped into the story too early, before we really knew the protagonists. This created an imbalanced plotline for me and didn't cause me to finish it in a swift time. Instead I felt as if the story dragged a bit and was not as enjoyable as I had been expecting. But this novel would be a great match for fans of "Solomon's Crown" by Natasha Siegel, and those who enjoy Russian historical fiction with a touch of fables/surrealism.

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This is very well written, but your enjoyment of it will likely depend on how specifically interested you are in the subject.

I tend to like Russian history so I thought that I would be very enthralled by this, but I had trouble getting into the story. Perhaps because it’s speculative, or perhaps just because when you get slow moving novels, it’s tough to stay engaged if you’re not extremely invested as a reader.

I really liked Epstein’s A Tip for the Hangman, and while I think this is just as well-conceived and written, I thought that Hangman made a better story. I was expecting something more atmospheric and felt that Sofia’s character was a missed opportunity for something decidedly witchier, but I loved the relationship between Sasha and Felix, and Epstein’s writing is always a delight.

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I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Allison Epstein is now a must-read author for me. I loved her debut, A Tip for the Hangman, so I was eager to read her newest release, Let the Dead Bury the Dead.

Let the Dead Bury the Dead is an alternate history, so although the characters are all fictional, the story is placed in a historical context (Russia, 1812, just after Napoleon has been chased away) where it feels as if the events could be real. (Except, for the vila, the witch…) Slavic folklore is woven into the tale adding magical realism to the mix. I am not, in general, a fan of magical realism. And I admit that the first time Sofia turned into an owl, I was a bit put off. And yet, the characters were so compelling, the writing so beautiful, and the folk tales so perfectly adapted to fit in with the story, that it all worked to create a novel I couldn’t put down.

In the aftermath of Napoleon’s defeat in Russia, the tsar wants to consolidate his power at home. If this means crushing the life out of his own people, the very people who supported his army and country, giving their all, so be it. The tsar and his family live in obscene luxury while the common people, pretty much everyone else, starve. The tsar’s second son, Felix, the Grand Duke, dared once to speak up for the people and found himself banished to a palace 15 miles from St. Petersburg where he has given himself over to idle hedonism.

Felix’s lover, the soldier Sasha, has now returned from the war. On his way to find Felix, he comes across a woman of unearthly beauty (Sofia) nearly dead from the cold, lying in the forest. He rescues her. This is something he quickly comes to regret. Sasha comes from the poor peasantry and was raised on the old stories. He recognizes a witch when he sees one.

Sofia plays on Felix’s ambition to convince him he is the leader the people need, setting things in motion and tearing the two lovers apart.

At the same time, Marya, a young woman involved with a group of revolutionaries and the right hand of the group’s leader, Isaak, is busily helping to organize a general strike. It’s exceptionally dangerous as the tsar will certainly crack down at the merest hint of dissent. Nevertheless, Marya has faith that good can come out of a popular revolt. It’s necessary. Sofia works her magic on Marya also, convincing her that she has more to offer than simply following Isaak’s lead.

The novel works so well because of its moral ambiguity. Each of the main characters is partly right and very much wrong. The world is overwhelmingly against them and no simple solutions are available. Good can’t conquer evil when there is no pure good and no pure evil. (Although Sofia certainly comes close to pure evil, even she makes some good points. The tsar is evil, but evil in the commonplace cruel dictator way, and eliminating him will solve nothing.)

If you want to lose yourself in a beautiful historical fairy tale, I can’t recommend Let the Dead Bury the Dead highly enough.

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A sweeping, eloquent fairytale set in an alternate imperial Russia after Napoleon's failed invasion. Epstein has composed an intriguing counterpoint between the privileged, yet emotionally scarred, second son of an imaginary tsar and the band of passionate revolutionaries whose cause he comes to champion. And then there's Sofia-whose machinations will entrance you as surely as they transfix the other characters in this grand theatrical parable of love, belonging, political fervor, and fate. I was beguiled from beginning to end.

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Set in an alternate 19th century Russia, LET THE DEAD BURY THE DEAD masterfully weaves folklore, history, and magic to tell a gorgeously written story of rebellion, hope, and power with a surprising cast of misfits at its heart. As an early and passionate supporter of their debut, A TIP FOR THE HANGMAN, I'm pleased to say that Epstein's queer, historical fiction continues to be some of the most compelling and exemplary on shelves and their work is convincing enough to make you question which events from its pages are fact and which are fiction. I can't wait for where Epstein takes us next.

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A huge thank you to the author, NetGalley, and Doubleday Books for providing this e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Set in a historical fiction in 1812 Russia, Let the Dead Bury the Dead is a tale that perfectly blends folklore with reality, making you unsure which is which as the story unfolds. Told with three perspectives - Felix (the grand duke of Russia), Sasha (an imperial soldier with a relationship with Felix), and Marya (a member of the Koalitsiya, a revolutionary) - this story blends together all sides of the unrest stirring in Russia, and the choices each person makes that led to the ending of this novel.

Helped by the enigmatic Sofia to achieve their goals, as the novel unfolds we remain unsure what her goal truly is. Does she wish to help the revolution for a better Russia for the people, or watch it burn to the ground? She is the hand guiding this story, and the only one who knows what resolution her actions will bring.

This story was a beautiful take on Russian history, and made you truly feel like you were living in these times with these people. The stakes slowly rise higher as the novel continues, until eventually you are unable to see how this can end without bloodshed.

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'Let the Dead Bury the Dead' is an alternate history of post-Napolean Russia. This book had more Russian folklore than I had anticipated, which made it a bit confusing for me as someone who isn't super familiar with that genre. Once I get a grasp on what was occurring, I found the plot engaging and gripping. It's obvious reading this book that it required a great deal of imaginative skill on Allison Epstein's part. I really enjoyed it overall

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An immersive, enchanting, engaging, atmospheric novel that honestly surprised me with the depth of feeling Epstein imbued in her characters. Yes its an alternate history (make sure to read the afterword) but in the broadest sense and you don't need to know what happened in Russia in 1812 to enjoy this because Epstein has created a world for Sasha, a Russian Army Captain who loves Grand Duke Felix, younger son the the Tsar, the revolutionary Marya, and Sofia. Sasha makes the biggest mistake of his life when he rescues Sofia from the snow on his way to Felix's palace because it turns out that she's a vila- a witch- who upends not only his life but the lives of everyone around her. Her story, the story of the vila, and others, is told in the Russian folklore that separates the chapters are critical points. This is very much about the class struggle in Russia during the time of the Tsars. Marya, Lena, Issak, and the others are part of the growing revolution and Sasha, who grew up in poverty, understands but has pledged loyalty to the Tsar, which becomes critical as things escalate. But is he more loyal to Felix? Their relationship, told from both their perspectives, is just, well, no spoilers. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. I did not want this to end (although the ending was perfect) and can not recommend it more highly.

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"An urgent, immersive alternate history set in an imperial Russia on the brink of disaster, following a surprising cast of characters seeking a better future as Saint Petersburg struggles in the wake of Napoleon's failed invasion.

Saint Petersburg, 1812. Russian forces have defeated Napoleon at great cost, and the tsar's empire is once again at peace. Sasha, a captain in the imperial army, returns home to Grand Duke Felix, the disgraced second son of the tsar and his irrepressibly charming lover, but their reunion is quickly interrupted by the arrival of Sofia, a mysteriously persuasive figure whose disruptive presence Sasha suspects to be something more than human. Felix, insisting that Sasha's old-fashioned superstitions are misplaced, takes Sofia into his confidence - a connection that quickly becomes both personal and political. On her incendiary advice, Felix confronts his father about the brutal conditions of the common people in the aftermath of the war, to disastrous results, separating him from Sasha and setting him on a collision course with a vocal group of dissidents: the Koalitsiya.

Meanwhile, the Koalitsiya plan to gridlock Saint Petersburg with a citywide strike in hopes of awakening the upper classes to the grim circumstances of the laboring people. Marya, a resourceful sometimes-thief and trusted lieutenant of the Koalitsiya, also falls under Sofia's spell and, allied with Felix and her fellow revolutionaries, she finds herself in the middle of a battle she could never have predicted. As Sofia's influence grows and rising tensions threaten the tsar's peace, Sasha, Felix, and Marya are forced to choose between the ideals they hold close and the people they love.

Allison Epstein combines cleverly constructed plot with unforgettable characters in this exuberant historical page-turner, intercut with fractured retellings of traditional Eastern European folk stories that are equal parts deadly dark and slyly illuminating. Vividly written and emotionally intense, Let the Dead Bury the Dead reminds us that the concerns of the past aren't quite as far behind us as we like to believe."

There's a The Master and Margarita vibe here.

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In this alternate history set in Imperial Russia, a charismatic woman charms the disgraced second son of the tsar and sets off a dramatic chain of rebellious events.

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I loved this alternative history. I appreciated the Russian folktales being merged into the novel. This would be a great companion to read after War and Peace!

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Page-turning alternate history novel with magical elements based in folklore. The power of this novel is its ability to make the reader see and feel the heart and anguish of the people who stood up and protested, in the time following Napoleon's defeat. One could, in fact, imagine the struggle still persisting today, as leaders continue to make their own ways. Vivid and gripping, this was a world easy to inhabit.

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I love an alternate history so convincly written that I have to mark my place and head for Wikipedia to find out if the events in the story really occurred. That's the power of this book.

While I preferred the time period of the author's previous work, A Tip for the Hangman, Epstein's clear and enticing writing drew me along and made me care about Sasha, Felix, and Marya, worryling whether any of thetm woudl even make it out of the turbulent events of 1812 St. Petersburg.

Beautifully written and visually stunning, this is a book that nott only lives up to its predecessor; it lives up to its excellent cover.

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This is a very well done alternative history of post-Napoleon Russia. Sasha rushes back from the war to return to his regular position as bodyguard to his friend and lover, Grand Duke Felix. He finds a woman unconscious in the snow and carries her to the palace where Felix has been exiled because of opinions that outrage his father, the Tsar. Once the woman gains consciousness, Sasha sees what he has brought into the palace--a vila, a beautiful witch capable of entering people's minds.

And she's a busy vila. As well as captivating Felix, she captivates members of a revolutionary group. Initially Marya is enveloped by Sofia's extraordinary being but she comes to her senses and begins to wonder about her. Then Grand Duke Felix stumbles into the group's meeting.

Allison Epstein skillfully weaves Russian folk beliefs into "Let the Dead Bury the Dead," creating a a nice depth to the story. Although none of the royal family is based on historical fact, the dire social situation is spot on for Russia during that time period and a whole lot of others. It's an engaging read.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a digital review copy in exchange for a, honest review.

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Let the Dead Bury the Dead by Allison Epstein is a great historical fiction set in 19th century Russia.

I just adore Russian history, and this historical fiction fully immerses the reader into the heart of the land in the early 19th century. So many changes, upheavals, unrest, and instability are growing and festering within Her people. The author does an excellent job portraying the difficult balance of political, social, and societal changes wrangling with the rich and storied culture and mythological histories and past.

There is drama, history, folklore, intrigue, action, suspense, and rich immersive storytelling throughout. I was fascinated and found myself getting lost within the past several different times.

A beautiful and intricate book for anyone that loves Russian culture and history.

4/5 stars

Thank you NG and Doubleday for this wonderful arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.

I am posting this review to my GR and Bookbub accounts immediately and will post it to my Amazon, Instagram, and B&N accounts upon publication on 10/17/23.

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The description was what drew me in and I’m so glad I was able to read this, it had a great mystery feel to it and it worked well overall. Allison Epstein has a great style for the genre and I was glad I got to read this. I enjoyed the alternate history elements and thought it worked well overall. It was just different enough and I could see this happen.

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I love a good alternative history, and LET THE DEAD BURY THE DEAD does not disappoint. This is an immersive and entertaining novel. The author has clearly done her research, but thankfully she weaves it seamlessly into the narrative so that it doesn't interrupt the flow. While the political storyline can be heavy at times, the personal relationships kept me turning the pages. Ultimately, the characters are faced with difficult choices, the kind that make for great drama. I would describe the novel's pace as a bit ponderous at times, but overall, this is a thrilling read perfect for fans of serious historical fiction. The interspersed retellings of Eastern European folk stories add another layer of meaning to the novel.

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