Off the Shelf: Rasputin, volume #1: The Road to the Winter Palace

Rasputin Volume 1 TP: The Road to the Winter PalaceRasputin Volume 1 TP: The Road to the Winter Palace by Alex Grecian
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fictional interpretation of Rasputin & his life, where the fantasy of Russian folklore & the divisive climate of his time collide. Told in flashbacks from the fatal dinner party hosted by Felix Yusupov, Rasputin reimagines the starets as a gifted, sensitive mystic trying to reconcile his perception with the harsh realities of Russia’s poverty. He heals the wounded, speaks to faery creatures & is supposedly the heir to a mythic hero. His talents lead him from Siberia to a monastery where another monk recognizes his power & convinces Rasputin to seek out the tsar’s family in order to ground the worldly rulers. This particular issue ends with a key meeting between Rasputin & various figures of power on a WWI battlefield.

This graphic novel is not unlike Enchantments by Katheryn Harrison–there are interesting ideas here supported by some knowledge of the historical context. But the execution can be uneven. I like the idea that Rasputin absorbs some aspects of the people he heals but this can also act as a narrative hand-wave since some of his actions happen when “he’s not himself.” One example: after healing a swash-buckling Frenchman from wounds sustained in a bar fight, R soon has an orgy of sorts with his newfound friend, presumably under the influence of his absorbed personality traits. While this moment sets up Rasputin’s lustful appetites, it also comes a little out of the blue since the preceding scenes give no indication of this. The section is literally bar fight, trip to monastery, orgy & then, oh well you absorbed some Frenchness you might want to keep an eye on that.

I also enjoy the conflict of Russia’s folkloric past & technological future mirroring Rasputin’s main internal conflict here as well. Grecian does capture the essence of that period while simplifying the multitude of factions at play. Rossmo’s art is impressionistic & expressive as well. One gripe: they’ve made Rasputin more conventionally good-looking. This sort of undermines the natural mystique of the Rasputin legend–that he could influence people greatly despite his intense repellent appearance. But I can understand the stylistic choice. There’s a Sandman vibe to this fantastical story & this is definitely aided by the look they’ve chosen.

Recommended for readers who enjoy a fantastical flavor to their historical fiction or those who wanted Petrograd to be a little more mystical.

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