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The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the…

The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great

by Eva Stachniak

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Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
Varvara (Barbara) is a orphan who befriends Catherine the Great. This story is compelling and sad, with its moments of happiness. A must read!
  CarriePalmer | Apr 5, 2014 |
Biographical novels are interesting. And The Winter Palace was a good read. I do need to say that to start with. It was informative, well written and seemed to have been researched well (though not being knowledgeable of Russian history, I am just guessing on this one)

That said, Ms. Stachniak set a story line that threw open a potential door to create an atmosphere and character that could have been astounding. Alas, she fell short. She barely walked through the door. She gives us this young girl, Varvara, who is raised by her father who is a bookbinder. So, she is raised through much of her formative years outside of the palace till her father dies and she begins her life inside the palace walls. And it is from her that we hear the story. She becomes the ears and the tongue of the royalty, particularly, Sophia, or Catherine as she will become. She listens and she tells what she hears to those she serves. First, the Empress and then Catherine. There is far more in this book on the Empress than on Catherine, but I imagine that will be made up for in the sequel and it may be that it is necessary information to tell the history better. She tells the story well. But, she tells it as if she is a scribe, penning the details of the palace. Her character is not well developed. It is as if she is as much a mere voice on the page as she is in the halls of the palace. We don't experience the transformation she must have gone through in going from a merchant's daughter to a palace pawn. We don't get to experience the awakening and perverting of her character as she is trained to be a royal spy. We don't get the culture shock of the people on the outside versus the court. We don't get to feel the fear, the noise, the smells, the feels. Even the use of her body by her teacher is told as if from watching eyes and not the experience of the teller. In truth, it reads like so many biographical works, a wee bit on the dry side.

I wanted to understand and know Varvara, but I guess she was maybe just a vehicle to tell the story of Catherine. That's too bad, as it could have given so much more depth to the story and allowed it to be not only seen, but felt through the reader's eyes. Varvara was our tour guide through the palace and she did a good job of telling us the tale as she walked us past the glassed in walls of the exhibits. I would just have preferred a guide that invited us in and shared with us her soul story as well.

I'll read the next book in the series. It was well written and held my interest. And I am more than a little curious how much of the story she will tell. ( )
  sephibitchwitch | Feb 25, 2014 |
Very well written story of Catherine the Great's rise to power. Told by the Polish orphan Varvara, the servant of and spy for Elizabeth, the Empress Dowager. The renovated Winter Palace I thought of as a symbol for the coup de palais. ( )
  janerawoof | Feb 25, 2014 |
I gave this 3 stars--I liked it--for story, but bumped it up a half star for good craft, although I think that enjoyment was enhanced by the fact I read the biography "Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman" a short while ago. It helps considerably to have some background on the history and the main players. Some readers have complained that the subtitle of "A Novel of Catherine the Great" is misleading because the first person narrator is a courtier/spy in the court who primarily serves the Empress Elizabeth prior to Catherine's ascension to the throne. I would agree to some extent. This is fiction using a fictional character to shed some light on a historical character--a technique used by many writers (including me). The author covers over twenty years in history--a difficult task in fiction--and does it well.

Varvara, the fictional protagonist, is an interesting character and manages (for the most part) to carry her weight in telling the story. She can walk in more worlds than Catherine, so we get insight into the lives of servants, poor street beggars, and army officers; as well as court intrigue and the private life of the rich and powerful. From the author's note, her next book in the series will be from Catherine's POV. The author's extensive research shows in the details: clothing, food and drink, architecture, folk lore, medicine, plants, smells, etc. Sometimes the details overwhelm the story, but for the most part they provide a great background and enhance the atmosphere. Altogether, an enjoyable read, but it helps to know about the history and characters before hand. ( )
  MarysGirl | Jan 3, 2014 |
This is a beautiful book about Catherine the Great, told in the point of view of Barbara, the daughter of a Polish bookbinder who came to Russia for work. Her father wins the favor of Princess Elizabeth, who is entrusted with the life of Barbara. She's accepted into the palace as a seamstress, which she's not much good at, then recruited by the palace's spymaster as a tongue for the Empress.

It's a unique novel for me, reading about royalty from the point of view of their nobility while the book is still primarily about the royalty. It really offered a wider view into the secret lives of the nobility of Russia, the secrets and intrigue which shaped history.

Stachniak wrote her characters beautifully. When Barbara felt betrayed, I did too. She has an uncanny ability to capture emotion and portray it into words. ( )
  lovelylime | Sep 21, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 63 (next | show all)
"Stachniak (Dancing with Kings) sets the scene extravagantly with details of sumptuous meals, elaborate wardrobes, and cunning palace politics. Longtime readers of English and French historical novels will delight in this relatively unsung dynasty and the familiar hallmarks of courtly intrigue. "
added by Christa_Josh | editLibrary Journal, Cathy Lantz (Nov 1, 2011)
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St. Petersburg, October 17, 1756

Three people who never leave her room, and who do not know about one another, inform me of what is going on, and will not fail to acquaint me when the crucial moment arrives.

-from the letter of Grand Duchess of All the Russias (later Catherine the Great) to Sir Hanbury-Wiliams, British Ambassador to the court of Empress Elizabeth
For Szymon and Chizuko
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The spies you learn about are either those who get exposed or those who reveal themselves.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553808125, Hardcover)

Tasha Alexander Reviews The Winter Palace

Tasha Alexander is the author of the bestselling Lady Emily series. She attended the University of Notre Dame, where she signed on as an English major in order to have a legitimate excuse for spending all her time reading. A confirmed Anglophile from birth, she and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, divide their time between Chicago and the UK.

Like most lovers of historical fiction, I’m on constant lookout for a book into which I can completely disappear, one that will engulf all my senses and, in effect, turn my couch into a time machine. I want the history to be accurate, the characters to be compelling, and the story to make me reconsider preconceived notions about a period outside the area of my expertise. Eva Stachniak’s The Winter Palace does all that in spectacular fashion.

The scandal, luxury, and political unrest rife in eighteenth century Russia provide a rich backdrop, and Stachniak takes full advantage of all of it without sticking to the ordinary and expected. Instead of presenting Catherine the Great at the peak of her powers, she gives us the infamous empress during her youth, when she was Sophie, a young German duchess betrothed to the future Tsar Peter III. A not entirely welcome foreigner, Sophie is thrust into a court full of corruption and deceit, where nothing is more important than have a source of reliable information. It is by taking advantage of this circumstance that Stachniak gives her novel extra depth. Catherine is not the protagonist of The Winter Palace. Stachniak tells her story through Barbara, a young woman whose heartbreaking life has led her to employment as an ill-treated seamstress at the palace.

Until someone realizes she’d make a better spy.

Stachniak’s well-chosen protagonist enables her to give the novel a full and satisfying depiction of the Imperial Court, seen not only through the eyes of the privileged nobility, but through a woman who is keenly aware of what goes on above and below stairs. She brings to life the plight of the less fortunate and the delicate balance of truth and lies necessary to survive in the murky labyrinth of Barbara’s world. Stachniak fills her novel with intricate details--the opulence is all but tangible--but never does so at the expense of her story, which moves along at a clipped pace. Her prose, lush and evocative, is as elegant as the fabled Amber Room at Catherine’s summer palace.

The Winter Palace should secure Stachniak a place among the best historical novelists. It is one of those rare books that grabs the reader and won’t let go, one that begs to be read again, one that lingers pleasantly in the mind long after the finishing the last page. And for me, it proved itself in a more simple way: the minute I closed the book, I wanted to get my hands on everything else Stachniak has written.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:22:13 -0400)

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A reimagining of the early years of Catherine the Great traces the story of a naive German duchess as observed by young Barbara, a servant who watches her mistress's elevation and rises to become one of Russia's most clever royal spies.

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Average: (3.49)
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