28 February 2012

The Winter Palace - A Novel of Catherine The Great by Eva Stachniak

The Winter Palace - A Novel of Catherine The Great by Eva Stachniak.
Audience/Genre : Adult/Realistic Fiction.
Publication : January 10th 2012 by Bantam.

"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.


"I was a tongue, a gazette. The bearer of "the truth of the whispers."
I knew of hollowed books, trunks with false bottoms, and the meanders of secret corridors. I knew how to open hidden drawers in your escritoire, how to unseal your letter and make you think no one had touched it. If I had been in your room, I left the hair around your lock the way you had tied it. If you trusted the silence of the night, I had overheard your secrets."


The Winter Palace captured my full attention right from the prologue. The book follows the rise of a young polish girl from being the poor book binder's daughter to one of the best spies in the Russian court . Varvara Nikolayevna is a smart, young and highly observant girl who works as a seamstress in The Winter Palace during the rule of Empress Elizabeth, at least until these qualities get noticed by the court's Chancellor who decides to train her to be a spy, one of Elizabeth's tongues as it was called. So begins the story, entering the world of politics and mind games.

"Life is a game and every player is cheating."

Here I thought The Tudors was intriguing. The Winter Palace literally transported me to another world, one of a different time and society. Eva Stachniak is undoubtedly an excellent writer and she captured the essence of the royal society and power play perfectly. Although the subtitle - A Novel of Catherine The Great - is slightly misleading considering the whole book is narrated by Varvara, the story was still captivating. The book managed to hold my interest through out the story and avoided the mid-story slump. There wasn't a slow or boring moment at any time. Varvara's accounts were truly fascinating and she made quite an interesting character. We're able to see the story play out - the good, bad and the ugly of The Winter Palace - through an outsider/observer's point of view and that really made the book stand out from a lof of other works of historical fiction that usually follow a very cliche'd plot.

Once again, I have to mention that Eva Stachniak's writing was nothing short of amazing. More than anything else, it was her words that kept me enthralled, Stachniak definitely has a way with them. If you thought Henry the Eighth's court involved a lot of politics and drama, wait till you read about the Russian court. This is definitely one of the best fiction novels I've read lately which is saying quite a bit since I'm not even into historical fiction all that much.



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2 comments:

  1. I love historical fiction and this book sounds great! I know more about the Tudor era and not much about Catherine the Great or that Russian time period. I hadn't heard of this book before so thanks for this review - this is definitely a book that interests me!

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