In St. Petersburg, Russia, in mid-December, the sun does not rise until ten, and it sets barely five hours later. In the waning days of 1916, all of Russia finds itself on the brink of a still more appalling darkness. The casualties of a disastrous war line the streets. As the wealthy savor their pastries and wines, the narod --- the ordinary people --- face starvation. In the palace of Tsar Nicholas, Aleksei, the hemophiliac heir to the throne, lies helpless as internal bleeding threatens his life. The once-mighty Romanov dynasty that has ruled Russia for three hundred years labors to stave off collapse.
In their struggle to save their son and their empire, the Tsar and Tsaritsa turn to an improbable savior, an illiterate monk with insatiable appetites for women and alcohol --- and preternatural powers of prophecy and healing. The monk, Grigori Effimovich Rasputin, survives today as one of history’s strangest figures; his deeds and violent death have entered the realm of legend. Now, in a gripping novel of suspense, mysticism, and forbidden romance, Robert Alexander tells the story of an almost forgotten woman, Maria Rasputina, a willful, compassionate eighteen-year-old girl. To her, Rasputin is more than a baffling mixture of holiness and hedonism, more than the man who holds the fate of the Romanovs in his rough, unwashed hands. He is her father.
Alexander’s novel tells of the last week of Rasputin’s life, a time when, Maria says, she learned everything she knows about her father. Through Maria’s recollections, history’s mad monk emerges in a deftly drawn portrait, one in which saintliness and debauchery become almost impossible to distinguish. With sorrow and amazement, Maria recalls her father’s astonishing inner contradictions. She describes not only her father’s mysterious wisdom and uncanny clairvoyance, but also his naïve inability to comprehend the venomous political intrigues that surround him.
Yet Alexander’s most sensitive portrayal is of Maria herself. A girl on the threshold of womanhood, Maria discovers that the structures on which she most depends --- her family, the Tsarist regime, her own spiritual sense of self --- are rapidly giving way. In the midst of mounting chaos, she finds she must not only learn to understand her father but also to act decisively if she is to save his life. At the same time, she has to try to decipher the true intentions of a striking young man named Sasha whose behavior is either that of a love-struck admirer or a murderous stalker. Is he Maria’s only friend or her father’s most implacable enemy?
Finally and most bewildering, Maria must come to terms with the supernatural gift she has inherited from her father and resolve within herself the same dark struggle between good and evil that rages within her father’s soul. Just one outcome is certain: The events that will end this strife will be written in the blood of families and kings.