I received this book for free from From the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak
Series: Catherine #1
Published by Bantam
Published on: January 10, 2012
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Source: From the Publisher
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About the Book
From award-winning author Eva Stachniak comes this passionate novel that illuminates, as only fiction can, the early life of one of history’s boldest women. The Winter Palace tells the epic story of Catherine the Great’s improbable rise to power—as seen through the ever-watchful eyes of an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne.
Her name is Barbara—in Russian, Varvara. Nimble-witted and attentive, she’s allowed into the employ of the Empress Elizabeth, amid the glitter and cruelty of the world’s most eminent court. Under the tutelage of Count Bestuzhev, Chancellor and spymaster, Varvara will be educated in skills from lock picking to lovemaking, learning above all else to listen—and to wait for opportunity. That opportunity arrives in a slender young princess from Zerbst named Sophie, a playful teenager destined to become the indomitable Catherine the Great. Sophie’s destiny at court is to marry the Empress’s nephew, but she has other, loftier, more dangerous ambitions, and she proves to be more guileful than she first appears.
What Sophie needs is an insider at court, a loyal pair of eyes and ears who knows the traps, the conspiracies, and the treacheries that surround her. Varvara will become Sophie’s confidante—and together the two young women will rise to the pinnacle of absolute power.
With dazzling details and intense drama, Eva Stachniak depicts Varvara’s secret alliance with Catherine as the princess grows into a legend—through an enforced marriage, illicit seductions, and, at last, the shocking coup to assume the throne of all of Russia.
Impeccably researched and magnificently written, The Winter Palace is an irresistible peek through the keyhole of one of history’s grandest tales.
I love historical fiction. That being said, I always end up reading books from the same time periods which usually happens to be either Ancient Egypt, or Tudor England. Partly due to my interest in those time periods and partly due to the absolutely saturated market of books chronicling that time period. Try as I may, I have never been able to branch out, until I was given the opportunity to read and review The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak. After reading this book I am extremely pleased that this was the book that I chose to broaden my horizons and read about a different time period.
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak brings us to Imperial Russia in the 18th Century and introduces us to Catherine the Great. But this is a very different Catherine the Great than the one that you are understandably thinking of. Instead when we first meet Catherine, she is still just Sophie, a poor German Princess as she is brought to the Russian court of Empress Elizabeth to become the bride of the Grand Duke. Indeed in Sophie we witness a softness and a vulnerability that isn’t really present in the woman we know her to become.
Told through the viewpoint of Varvara, which is the Russian version of Barbara, who is a cleaver orphan living in the Russian Court working as a seamstress. Varvara soon uses her cleverness and her talent for languages when she is put to use as a spy in the palace on behalf of the Empress. While conducting her new duties, she is put to spy on Princess Sophie, she ends up forming a friendship with the foreign Princess. It is through this friendship that we are able to bear witness into Sophie’s eventual transformation into Catherine the Great. It was fascinating to watch Sophie’s metamorphosis and to see the events that shaped her life and as a result, her empire.
Eva Stachniak has done an absolutely masterful job at depicting one of the most intriguing time periods. Stachniak’s writing introduces one of history’s greatest women, and while very detailed, her writing is never boring. She is able to mix fact with fiction so well that The Winter Palace is a book I have no doubt that I will return to time and time again.