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Kristin P. (Elburn, IL)
The Winter Palace
I had high hopes for The WInter Palace as a fan of historical fiction and Russian history. However, the book failed to live up to its potential. The author's creativity in storytelling was not fully realized since the majority of the characters were written one-dimensionally. Overall, the book was arduous to finish, I kept waiting for more character development or for the author to tie up loose ends, but instead the book was more of a "study" instead of a finished work.
Karen D. (Dedham, MA)
I so wanted to read this book as I have traveled to St. Petersburg/Leningrad. I was disappointed that I am on page 404 and just now Catherine has become Catherine the Great. Much of her life was eliminated but we know all about Varvara. Did I miss the steps leading up to her coronation? I shall read Robert Massie's book to learn more about Sophie who became Catherine.
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.
Virginia P. (Tallahassee, FL)
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.
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.
Rosemary T. (San Antonio, TX)
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak
Although I enjoyed the book, I was disappointed that the author made Catherine's confidante, Varvara, the main character. The book cover claims that it is a novel of Catherine the Great, however we really never get to know her, only what is presented through Varvara.
Leslie G. (Mililani, HI)
Gripping tale of intrigue and drama in the Russian court
I was completely drawn in by the characters in the drama of daily life in this decadent and luxurious court. It was hard to put this down even though I didn't want it to end. As a German from Russia, it became clearer as to why there are so many Katrina, Katrine, Catharines in the family tree. I particularly liked that the story was "narrated" by a commoner that became one of Catherine's most trusted confidants. This book would appeal most to those drawn to historical fiction full of intrigue and suspense. It would also be a great book club selection as there is so much to discuss. Looking forward to the next book already.
Marie D. (Waretown, NJ)
Life as a royal — a life filled with intrique!
I looked forward to reading The Winter Palace especially since I have wonderful recollections of my visit to St. Petersburg in 2009. Vivid memories of the Winter Palace/Hermitage and Catherine’s “summer” palace at Oranienbaum created a sense of place as I read the book. I could “see” the vista of the Neva River, the Great Perspective Road. My issue with the book, so well crafted and filled with fascinating details, was my need to really know what was fact and what was fiction. The Winter Palace was a great read – now I intend to follow up on the life of Catherine in the history aisle! Are there Varenkas — or “tongues” at work in high places today? I would say very likely. Does power corrupt? You betcha! Ms. Stachniak must tell us “the rest of the story” in a sequel.