Thursday, October 13, 2011

Review: "The Winter Palace" by Eva Stachniak

From Goodreads:  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.

My Thoughts:  This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for review.  I have always greatly admired Catherine the Great but this book kind of made me question that.  This book tells the story of Varvara, a spy at the court of Empress Elizaveta I around the time of the arrival of Catherine the Great in Imperial Russia.  Varvara is a very sympathetic character; she is an orphan who was allowed to live at the Winter Palace after her father's death and she seemed to really just want to be loved.  She didn't have anyone she could trust and the people she thought she could trust were using her (i.e. Catherine and Elizabeth).  I feel like the author showed the male figures in a much more flattering light than the female historical figures which kind of bothered me.  Catherine and Elizabeth were by no means perfect but this book made them seem like horrible people.  I am very familiar with Catherine the Great's arrival in Russia and years prior to her coup but I liked how the book gave an inside (albeit fictional) look at what everyday life may have been like during that time.    Overall, I enjoyed the story; it moved kind of slow but I appreciated that Varvara got a relatively happy ending.  3 stars.

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