Review: The Winter Palace

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Winter PalaceThe Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak
Series: Catherine #1
Published by Bantam on January 10, 2012
Genres: Historical
Pages: 444
Format: eARC
Source: NetGalley

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.

What a completely beautiful and tragic book. I was hooked from the first page. Barbara has such a realistic and strong voice. Plus, I really love reading about Russia, which has always fascinated me for some reason, although I really could not say why.

Most little girls really want to be princesses at one point or another, and, although it wasn’t my biggest dream, I certainly went through phases where I thought it would be awesome. After reading this, imagine me stomping those dreams down, because, good lord, I do not want to go through any of that business. All the spying, the court politics, the hypocrisy and the paranoia (is there a word for paranoia when it’s completely justified?) would either drive you insane or turn you into a total bitch.

Speaking of, it is entirely terrifying to me that rulers managed to maintain for dominion when so many of them were so awful. Elizabeth does not seem to actually do much of anything but sleep with her guards and spend money on shiny new things for herself, even when Russia is in the midst of a war and does not have enough guns or food for the soldiers. Peter, the Grand Duke, clearly has some sort of mental deficiencies going on and yet is considered a candidate for the throne. How did such governmental systems last for so long?

The history herein is entirely fascinating, and I definitely felt everything along with Barbara. I loved how she did the best she could in every situation, and did it decisively. When she couldn’t fight, she went along with things, like her marriage. And, in the end, she made that into a positive.

If you like historical fiction and have been disappointed by the quality of some of the books out there, read this one without worrying. I promise it’s good!

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