Thursday, 31 December 2015

Rasputin, by Edvard Radzinsky

5 stars

Just a little over a year ago, I asked Santa to bring me some books on historical bastards. This was one of the treats that Santa (or rather, NikNak) responded with.

Rasputin - looks like a creepy bastard, right?

Prior to reading this, the only thing I really knew about Rasputin was that he was apparently Russia’s greatest love machine (thanks, Boney M). I now know that he was actually just Russia’s most persistent lech, but I also learnt a lot more (including the surprising revelation that this all happened so recently. Thanks to the ready acceptance of mystical bullshit on the part of the Royals, I’d thought this all took place in like, olden times.) 

Born a peasant in a Russia that very much gave a shit about that sort of thing, Rasputin spent most of his youth apparently being drunk and violent, before a sudden change of heart led him to travel the country visiting holy places and like, finding himself, man. Instead of just getting a bit religious, he’d go the whole hog and soon make a name for himself through his ‘prophetic visions’ and performing of ‘miracles’. Which would bring him to the attention of a Royal Family already prone to religious gullibility and worried for the health of their young son and haemophiliac heir.

Having already been hypnotised by another chancer into thinking she was pregnant (who explained, come her humiliation come her time of confinement and realisation that she was as pregnant as I am, that the pregnancy had disappeared due to her lack of faith), the tsarina was soon eating out of Rasputin’s hand (not literally), claiming his enemies as her own and alienating everyone else around her. As the Royal Family became increasingly isolated by the rest of their own family, the court, the church and the government, Rasputin would be dogged by controversy. Especially once he reverted back to drinking.

Rasputin during an early rehearsal for John Lennon's Bed-In
(not really, he's recovering from an unsuccessful assassination attempt)

Already prone to groping anyone he could get his hands on and visiting, sometimes in just one day, many, many prostitutes (apparently he could totally cleanse you of sin by having sex with you), he was also believed to be controlling the tsarina (although the tutor to the royal children had it right when they said, 'His prophetic words most often merely confirmed the hidden wishes of the empress herself. She herself did not suspect that she had induced them, that she was their 'inspirer'. Her personal wishes, passing through Rasputin, acquired in her eyes the force and authenticity of revelation.') But the belief of his influence, alongside his penchant for bragging about his connections and power whilst slaughtered, would apparently wind up the wrong people and he would eventually be murdered by two members of the Royal Family and a leading politician – a murder that would help build his legend, no doubt thanks to Prince Felix’s dramatic description of the murder which read like something out of a zombie novel (“…With an abrupt, furious movement, Rasputin sprang to his feet. He was foaming at the mouth. He was horrifying. The room resounded with a savage roar, and I saw the flash of his convulsively clenched fingers. Then, like red-hot iron, they sank into my shoulder and reached for my neck…”).

A big, thick book that I ripped through in a matter of days, I couldn’t put this down thanks to the incredible details of Rasputin’s life. Making a legend much more human (even if he was a very, um, complicated man), this was packed with astonishing, sometimes awful and sometimes hilarious facts (I don’t know why I find this so funny, but on being challenged on why he kept taking young ladies to bathhouses, he replied, 'The society misses were so puffed up with pride, and in order to deflate it, it was necessary to humiliate them by forcing them to go to the bathhouse with a dirty peasant.').

I could have filled this review with a million of my favourite excerpts, but you really ought to read them for yourself. Go on.

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Pawnee, by Leslie Knope

4 stars

If you're a fan of Parks & Recreation (and if you're not, do yourself a favour and watch it) then you'll find a lot to love in this jaunt through Pawnee in the company of The Author (and my imaginary BFF) Leslie Knope.

Find out about the dodgy history of the home of Sweetums and feral raccoons, the culinary delights of JJ's Diner (don't forget to try the waffles) and the former names of Mouse Rat. Snigger quite a bit through Ron's cabin and April's college diaries. Just don't leave the book on your bathroom floor once you're done - Leslie worked really hard on this, you guys.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Deadpool Vol1: Dead Presidents, by Posehn, Duggan & Moore

4 stars

A disillusioned necromancer, saddened at the state of modern America, raises all of America’s dead presidents with the aim of saving his country. Unfortunately, it turns out that the deceased leaders think that what America really needs saving from is Americans, and they set about cleansing the country with aplomb. SHIELD is struck with scandal from the start, when Captain America makes the headlines for decapitating Harry Truman, and realises it can’t afford to pit its popular heroes against dead patriots. Instead of superheroes, what they really need is a scumbag. And so there’s really only one guy for the job.

Fabulously drawn, my second adventure with Deadpool was just as fun as my previous and prompted at least one snort (and often more) from me per page. I’m looking forward to hanging out with him much more often in the future.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Genghis: Lords of the Bow, by Conn Iggulden

3.5 stars

…Or, as I like to call it, Genghis 2: Empire-Building Boogaloo, in which Genghis – you guessed it – further builds his empire having united the tribes into one vast and terrible army. With the tribes now all under his control, Genghis isn’t content to sit back and count the rancid mutton and has instead settled his sights on an old enemy of his people: The Chin. First taking Xi Xia (and one of their princesses for a second wife), Genghis shows that his people aren’t just good at annihilating their enemies from atop their ponies, but are masters of the siege and – more importantly – propaganda too.

Learning from every enemy he comes across, and being more than a little sneaky when he needs to, it’s easy to see why Genghis (at least how he’s characterised here) made such a stunning impact on world history. He wasn’t just hard as nails (here surviving not just many battles but also assassins with poisoned blades), but fabulously cunning too. Although, having no idea about how this all went in real life, I have a funny feeling that his one blind spot (his alienation of his eldest son, Jochi) is going to come back to bite him in the ass.)

The battles that spatter these pages are more than a little pulse-pounding, and I’m still struck with awe at what terrifying warriors the Mongolians must have been, but having read the first two back to back I’ll be taking a wee break from the series for a bit as my time in this world was starting to feel ever so slightly samey towards the end.