Written by Philip Gelatt
Art by Tyler Crook
When Petrograd came out back in 2011, I knew that I wanted to read it, but for whatever reason, it's taken me this long to get a copy and dive into it. What a shame that I didn't read it sooner, as this is a truly spectacular historic graphic novel.
This book tells the story of the assassination of the Russian mad monk Rasputin. I don't know a whole lot about Russia just before its revolution, and so can't speak to the extent of truth in Philip Gelatt's story. We meet a British spy, Cleary, who is tasked with helping his friend, a Prince, in his goal to kill the man who has the most influence on the Tsarina. England sees Rasputin as pushing for peace with Germany (this is set in 1916), and so wants him out of the way.
Cleary's old friend, Felix, is a true hedonist, and is at first easily manipulated into thinking the plot is his own idea, but as things progress, he makes the plan overly complicated and shares too much information with people who can't be trusted. When it comes time to put the plan in action, it's a disaster almost from the beginning.
There's a lot more going on in this book than just the assassination plot, however. We get a good look at everyday life in the final days of the Tsar's rule, and get to know a few of the Bolsheviks who are pushing for systemic change. We also get a good look at the extent to which the royal family is out of touch with daily reality, as the cold winter and famine take their toll on the peasant class.
Cleary is an interesting character. He has no desire to kill Rasputin, but is also terrified of being returned to the front lines of the Great War. He has entered into a relationship with a revolutionary, but is also comfortable drinking away the night at a gypsy encampment with his old friend, who is wearing a dress. I like the way Gelatt builds up Cleary's character.
It is interesting to wonder if England really was so instrumental in Rasputin's death, as that raises a whole bunch of questions about their complicity in the entire Russian Revolution. I don't know anything about that.
Tyler Crook's work here is fantastic. I believe this is his first major published work, and it shows a lot of the skill that he took to books like BPRD since then. His facial expressions are clear, and he makes great use of the monochromatic orange he has chosen for the story.
This book has made me interested in learning a little more about Rasputin's death. The figure, as he is portrayed here, has no resemblance to the Starets we got to know in Alex Grecian and Riley Rossmo's recent Rasputin series (which was excellent in its own rights). This is the kind of well-researched historical fiction that I've always really enjoyed. I hope we get to read more from Gelatt soon...