The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak
"The spies you learn about are either those who get exposed or those who reveal themselves." In the first sentence of this novel, the author lays the groundwork for what is to follow, a story of secrets kept and revealed and a captivating tale of mid 18th century Russia prior to and during the early reign of Catherine the Great. Stachiniak's descriptions are lush and her characters, well drawn. Intertwining with Catherine's life is that of her confidante, Barbara, whose loyalty perhaps exceeds that of most of the others players in this tale. The author apparently has a vast knowledge of Russian history which moves along with the story and leaves you wanting to increase your own knowledge. It was an enjoyable book.
Rated of 5
by Virginia B. (Foster, RI)
A matter of trust
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak is an engrossing, well-written historical fiction about the Russian court of Empress Elizabeth during the 1700’s told from an interesting point of view. The narrator is the daughter of a bookbinder who is thrust into the court upon the death of her father when she is only a child. Bright, inquisitive, lonely and starved for attention Varvara is trained by Elizabeth’s Chancellor to become his spy. Her loyalties shift when Catherine, the German girl sent to Russia at 14 to marry the Empress’s nephew, forms a friendship with her. Intrigue, sex, gossip and luxuriant descriptions of the opulent court make this novel a delightful, realistic step back in time. I look forward to the next novel about Catherine the Great, The Empire of the Night. Those who have enjoyed Carr’s novels about the English Court will enjoy reading this as well.
Rated of 5
by Peggy K. (Long Beach, CA)
Told from the view of a young woman ordered to be the "tongue" for the Empress, this story gives us a peek into the world of the Russian royalty and in particular Catherine the Great when she was just Sophie. There is so much information here and so much intrigue. It is a fiction work but it grabs your attention from the first page. Catherine is one of the great figures in Russian history and simply fascinating to watch. A book club would find so much here to talk about and pose questions. I think many readers will find Catherine's early life in Russia very different from how they have viewed her and new readers will just soak it all up. Fiction or not this is a great way to be introduced to Catherine. Russian royalty had a very different take on being royal. You have all this and then there is Varvara, and her life serving so many masters. This is a grand romance book in many ways but also a thriller in some. Younger people might not care for it so much but women in general I think will truly enjoy this adventure. I have read books about Peter the Great and this book, even as fiction, takes a lot of factual information and uses it as well as many non fiction books. Even if you have little interest in Russian history you can still enjoy this book just for the characters.
Rated of 5
by Stephanie W. (Hudson, OH)
Varvara the spy
The Winter Palace tells the story of the rise of Catherine the Great from charity bride to Empress through the eyes of her friend and "tongue," (spy) Varavara. There are nice parallels between the young princess and the narrator in that both are foreigners in Russia without parents or anyone else to look out for them. The characters are engaging and not always what is expected and the story moves along quickly. Fans of Phillipa Gregory will enjoy similar insights into the workings of the court and the monarchy. If you like historical fiction and glittering European court stories, this book is for you.
Rated of 5
by Carolyn D. (Chico, CA)
I don't usually read historical fiction because the history is interesting enough without the fiction that slows the events down. Winter Palace was a pleasant surprise and a good read. There are enough characters to be a real Russian novel, but not too many to keep track of. The narrator's role was well chosen because her job is see and hear everything so she doesn't seem artificially omniscient. Catherine had an amazing life so there is a ton of good stuff to work with and Stachniak didn't mess it up. I did find it slow in a few places so it gets a 4 instead of a 5. I wanted to know more at the end of Winter Palace (always a good sign) and am now reading the new Catherine biography by Robert Massie to finish the story.
Rated of 5
by Gretchen, WV
The Winter Palace
If you are a big fan of stories that take place in the European courts of the 1600-1700s, you will enjoy this story of the rise of Catherine the Great of Russia. As with most novels describing court life of this era the story is full of the usual lies, conspiracies, self-serving patrons and courtesans, greed and opulence. It is also the story of two girls growing up together in parallel lives where one becomes an empress and the other her spy and friend. The characters and events of the story were historically accurate but I was disappointed that the author didn't tell the story of the conditions of the Russian citizens at the time of Catherine the Great or some of the accomplishments of her reign. Perhaps the authors upcoming sequel will delve into these areas.
Rated of 5
by Laura G. (Buffalo, NY)
A Fun Read
It was a lot of fun reading The Winter Palace, by Eva Stachniak. The actual story of Catherine the Great is very colorful and this book makes it that much more interesting. Although the names are difficult at first, they become easier as the story progresses. The point of view of a servant/spy brings a new perspective, that of someone who reads important information into every movement, conversation and letter. The descriptions of life in the Russian Courts help you to envision scenes beautifully. If you enjoy historical fictions, you will enjoy this tale of imperial intrigue.
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