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Book Review – Rasputin’s Bastards by David Nickle

From a hidden city deep in the Ural mountains, they walked the world as the coldest of Cold Warriors, under the command of the Kremlin and under the power of their own expansive minds.

They slipped into the minds of Russia’s enemies with diabolical ease, and drove their human puppets to murder, and worse.

They moved as Gods. And as Gods, they might have remade the world.

But like the mad holy man Rasputin, who destroyed Russia through his own powerful influence… in the end, the psychic spies for the Motherland were only in it for themselves.

* * *

It is the 1990s.

The Cold War is long finished.

In a remote Labrador fishing village, an old woman known only as Babushka foresees her ending through the harbour ice, in the giant eye of a dying kraken and vows to have none of it.

Beaten insensible and cast adrift in a life raft, ex- KGB agent Alexei Kilodovich is dragged to the deck of a ship full of criminals, and with them he will embark on a journey that will change everything he knows about himself.

And from a suite in an unseen hotel in the heart of Manhattan, an old warrior named Kolyokov sets out with an open heart, to gather together the youngest members of his immense, and immensely talented, family.

They are more beautiful, and more terrible, than any who came before them.

They are Rasputin’s bastards.

And they will remake the world.

First Line:  The steam carried the smell of Babushka’s death like a soaked sponge.

Random Quote:  It remained, and it spread through the town store, in hues of blueberry and whiskey and pine needle; in shades of clove and musk and olive, through the rambling Museum of Family History that was the Koldun’s gift many years past; and across the fishery, where the flatulent stench of rotting cod guts was replaced by a mélange of odours – each one better or worse than fish death, depending upon the predisposition of the particular grandchild’s nose that it touched.

Review I only recently discovered David Nickle through his short story in Best Horror of the Year (Vol. 4), edited by Ellen Datlow.  The short story is called “Looker” and I’ll have a lot more to say about it when I review the anthology, but at this point let me say that it was beautifully written, utterly creepy, and made my skin crawl.

Rasputin’s Bastards is something altogether different – an epic Cold War novel featuring former KGB agents – the remnants of a former Soviet program to develop psychic superwarriors that worked very well.  The problem, of course, with psychic superwarriors is that they tend to act on their own volition – meaning they obey their masters when convenient and when inconvenient – not so much.

Rasputin’s Bastards
is a fever dream of a novel.  It’s something you must jump into and allow to take along through the tides and currents.  And sense?  Don’t depend too much on that.  Rather depend on your senses, and on Mr. Nickles’ ability to take you along on a journey you won’t soon forget.  Highly recommended.Once again Nickles writes beautifully.  This is a novel full of complexities.  No one really knows who anyone else is (and neither do you).  The fluidity of the characters’ ability to be within other bodies and other lives might have made this unreadable, but it’s wonderful – fascinating, engrossing, and yes – it made my skin crawl.

While I suppose that Nickles might be considered a horror writer (after all, that story I talked about earlier was in a horror anthology), it seems more accurate to call him a writer of speculative fiction.  He’s got a wonderful mastery of “what if” and effortlessly juggles more objects at one time than most writers that I have read.  Fittingly, his story works a lot like a matryoshka doll (a Russian nesting doll) with an infinite number of smaller dolls to be discovered within – each alike, but also different.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from ChiZine for review

Publishing Information:  ChiZine Publications – June 26, 2012

Format:  Kindle


Reading Challenges:  2012 Mammoth Book Challenge

Stay tuned tomorrow for a great author Q and A.  In the meantime – go get this book.

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