Petrograd

When I read the solicitation for Petrograd, I knew this was a book I had to get my hands on.

“During the height of the first World War, a reluctant British spy stationed in the heart of the Russian empire is handed the most difficult assignment of his career: orchestrate the death of the mad monk, the Tsarina’s most trusted adviser and the surrogate ruler of the nation. From the slums of the working class into the opulent houses of the super rich, he’ll have to negotiate dangerous ties with the secret police, navigate the halls of power, and come to terms with own revolutionary leanings, all while simply trying to survive.”

I am not just a teacher of history, I am also a fan of history.  I love to read books that detail the small and the not-so-small moments in history that have helped to shape the world.  even more interesting to me are books about the people who helped shape the world. When I read the Petrograd would focus on a pivotal moment, place, and person in history, I was excited.

It would be near impossible to understate the role that Rasputin had in early 20th century Russian history.  He was an adviser, a mystic, and a wielder of behind-the-scenes power of such magnitude that he was able to fill positions on the government with his friends, and send the Tzar himself to the font lines of battle.  The fact that Rasputin’s murder is the stuff of legend only served to bolster interest in the “mad monk”.

Phil Gelatt has crafted quite the story that weaves the known facts with a bit of speculation and a hefty dose of research.  The story begins just before the murder of Rasputin and does a fine job of laying out the details of the social and political climate of the era.  but, more interestingly, Gelatt takes the story far beyond the death of Rasputin and follows the fate of not only the main characters of the story, but also the fate of Russia itself.  It raises the story beyond that of a simple historical piece and moves it in to a socio-political book that encourages the reader to delve deeper in to the story.

I liken Petrograd to Queen & Country as it deals with not just the mission itself, but also the agents and organizations that are involved.  Part of the intrigue is how the various intelligence communities all interact with each other and spend their time deflecting, delaying, and denying their real intentions.  Just as Queen & Country was never “just a spy caper”, Petrograd is not “just a murder plot”.

I would be remiss if I did not take a few moments to talk about Tyler Crook’s art.  Just as the story is carefully concocted, Crook’s art is painstakingly researched and then translated through his pen to create a world full of atmosphere.  The city streets boil over with anxiety, while the closed-door meetings are almost claustrophobic with their tension.

Everything is bathed in a red glow that alternates between foreshadowing the impending revolution and reminding the reader that everything in this story is predicated on the spilling of blood.  It is an uncomfortable experience reading some of the pages as the colors play off the action on the page so well, that it is almost as if you are reading through a haze of blood and rage.

I cannot recommend Petrograd highly enough.  It is a must read for fans of history, non-fiction, political intrigue, and for people who have a curiosity about the story behind the story of one of the most important periods in modern history.  Do yourself a favor and get this book!

You can check out a twenty page preview of the book right here!

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