Let the Dead Bury the Dead

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.


"Epstein’s unique retelling is richly enhanced by Slavic folklore, and the confusion between duty to family or country is expertly portrayed. Historical fiction fans will be spellbound."

Publisher's Weekly

"The characters are fleshed out and the world is depicted in colorful brushstrokes. Epstein’s latest (after A Tip for the Hangman, 2021) will be a pleasure for readers who enjoy fiction set in tsarist Russia."


"A vividly imagined tapestry of turbulent times."


"Epstein’s prose is both spare and deliciously visual. Childhood words hang in the curtains, bones yearn for heat. I savored this novel, reading it slowly, despite or perhaps because of its deceptively simple surface."

Historical Novel Society

"Epstein (A Tip for the Hangman) imbues this alternate history with elements of fantasy and folklore to create a heady, transportive read. [...] Let the Dead Bury the Dead is a remarkable rendering of character and history that manages to feel both timeless as well as absolutely of its historical setting."

Shelf Awareness

"Sharp as a dagger and twice as glinting, Let the Dead Bury the Dead is a fierce tale of revolution, liberation, love, and the cruel seductress of fate—all draped in the delicate frost of a Russian fairy tale. Epstein has conjured a parable for the ages.”

GennaRose Nethercott, author of Thistlefoot

"Set against the backdrop of early nineteenth century Russia, Let the Dead Bury the Dead combines political intrigue and a touch of magic with a cast of characters you'll be rooting for until the very end. Epstein's atmospheric, compelling sophomore novel is not one historical fantasy fans will want to miss."

Genevieve Gornichec, author of The Witch's Heart

"A haunting portrait of an alternate 19th century Russia on the brink of revolution, Let the Dead Bury the Dead is dizzy with betrayal and intrigue, snowy owls and whispering winds. Epstein is a master of suspense and characterization, and her folktales are inspired."

Mary McMyne, author of The Book of Gothel

"Epstein weaves a sweeping love story set against the backdrop of a cleverly reimagined Imperial Russia, glittering, gritty, and pushed to the very edge of rebellion by a dark creature of legend, a delightfully powerful femme fatale that will seduce anyone who meets her—or destroy them."

Olesya Salnikova Gilmore, author of The Witch and the Tsar

"Allison Epstein pulls readers effortlessly into a world of tsars, revolutionaries, and ancient magic in this triumphant work of historical imagination. Woven from the threads of both the country's history and its haunting folklore, Let the Dead Bury the Dead is atmospheric and propulsively suspenseful, a brilliantly crafted alternate vision of a Russia on the edge of revolution. Readers will find themselves breathless."

Molly Greeley, author of Marvelous