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.
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"Starred Review. Stachniak's brilliant, bold historical novel of eighteenth-century Russia is a masterful account of one woman's progress toward absolute monarchical rule
This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don't have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph." - Booklist
"Since Stachniak... can't invent anything more bizarre than actual czarist history, she wisely focuses on portraying the liaisons of Russian court life, with Varvara's story paralleling Catherine's before taking its own unique turn." - Publishers Weekly
"Longtime readers of English and French historical novels will delight in this relatively unsung dynasty and the familiar hallmarks of courtly intrigue." - Library Journal
"Less a novel than a 400-plus-page prologue to an anticipated sequel." - Kirkus Reviews
"This is a majestic and splendidly written tale of pride, passion, intrigue, and deceit that is brought alive from the first page to the last." - Rosalind Laker, author of The Golden Tulip
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Eva Stachniak was born in Wroclaw, Poland. She moved to Canada in 1981 and has worked for Radio Canada International and Sheridan College, where she taught English and humanities. Her first short story, "Marble Heroes," was published by The Antigonish Review in 1994, and her debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2000. She is also the author of Garden of Venus, which has been translated into seven languages. She lives in Toronto.
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