Rasputin’s Bastards by David Nickle
Kind thanks to ChiZine for providing a review copy
They were the beautiful dreamers. 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.
Alexei Kilodovich, KGB agent, has been pulled out of the water by a ship full of criminals. Specifically, criminals specializing in the trafficking of children, and using them in various money making schemes. Holden Gibson, head honcho, is bad news, but he’s nothing in comparison to the people that Kilodovich is used to dealing with. Kilodovich had been serving as a body guard to a supposed “business woman”, but who is, in fact, involved in a much greater conspiracy. Meanwhile, his handler, Kolyokov, festers in a total immersion tank in New York, casting his psychic net, gathering together his “children” for motives beyond anything you can imagine. He’s not the only one calling to these exceptional children, though, and a showdown is on the horizon. City 512 has been churning out psychic manipulators for quite some time, and now its most ambitious operatives yet are on the move, and no longer want to be under the thumb of a puppet master. They are the “beautiful dreamers.”
I honestly had no idea what to expect from Rasputin’s Bastards. ChiZine is known for its thought provoking fiction, and this is certainly no exception. It’s the 90s, and the Cold War is over, but you wouldn’t know it to read this. Putting in mind the diabolically evil human experimentations of Nazi Germany, Rasputin’s Bastards gives us City 512, a breeding ground for psychic espionage (usually known as astral projection.) Children have been bred to be puppets and puppeteers, but this new batch of kids is just a bit different. No longer will they be used by a group bent on world domination, and they’re ready to take their freedom, at any cost. But the mother of them all has sent out a call, and is gathering all of her sleepers and dreamers together for what has been dubbed The Rapture. Long of tooth and chock full of characters, there’s lots to digest here, but it offers up lots of goodies for those willing to go the distance. The author has a talent for spinning a phrase to make it much more than the sum of its parts, and surprisingly, there’s quite a lot of humor as well: clever and dry, popping up just when things start to get really serious, but never disrupting the flow. The author dives deep into his main characters and paints very complete pictures, weaving the stories together amidst a surrealistic landscape of dream walkers and mind control. This reminded me very much of Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort (one of my all time favorites), and it’s been quite a while since I’ve read a book with this much teeth. Lovely, rich writing only serves to make the creepy bits (of which there are plenty), well, even more creepy, and fans of subtle horror will find much to like in Rasputin’s Bastards.