Friday, January 20, 2012

Review: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

Title: The Winter Palace
Author: Eva Stachniak
Publisher: Bantam
Publish Date: January 10, 2012
Source: Netgalley/Publisher

Why You're Reading This Book:

  • You're a historical fiction fan.
  • You're an armchair traveler.
What's the Story?:

From "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 Two Cents:

Guys, I've been bitten by the all things Russian bug. Lucky for me, 2012 is shaping up to be the year of Russian lit, especially in the genre of historical fiction, which is one of my favorites as you may have figured out.

I was so excited once I heard this book was coming out. Back in August, I visited Odessa in Ukraine, which had basically been planned out by Catherine the Great. There are statues and plaques of her everywhere in the city. It's a cool city; definitely one of the more traditional Western European looking places that I visited while I was in Ukraine.

I knew that Catherine the Great was one of the great Russian monarchs but I knew very little about her. This book covers her time from when she came to Russia as a young German princess (I didn't realize that she was not Russian born actually) to when she become Empress of Russia.

The story was told from the point of Varvara (or Barbara in her native Polish tongue; there isn't really a hard "B" sound in Russian), a book binder's daughter who rises through the ranks to become a trusted friend and advisor to the Russian monarchs. She's also tapped to become a sort of spy of the household. Which will she choose as her ultimate position?

I got sucked into this story. The Russian monarchy is sort of interesting in that there were foreigners on the throne and the monarch at the time that Catherine comes to Russia to be matched with the Grand Duke, Elizabeth, is sort of building the monarch from scratch. She claimed the throne and did not have any descendents so she pulls her Prussian nephew to be her successor and he becomes the Grand Duke. This is very different from a lot of the other monarchies that I've read about where the line of ascension was much straight forward.

Stachniak does a fantastic job of making Catherine and Varvara's world come alive. You can tell how much research she must have done on their world. The details like all of the different foods and the way things were decorated really add to pull you in the story.

The names of everyone in the book are a little bit difficult to follow sometimes but there is a key of the major players of the Russian court in the back (I read an ARC so the placement could be moved in the market version of the book) was really helpful but it would have been better to have it in the front of the book.

Stachniak is apparently working on a follow on book, which I am assuming will follow more of Catherine's actual reign. I could not find any date as to when the next book will come out, nor a title. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the next book. I just hope it comes out quickly!!! I'm impatient! 



  1. Great review, thank you! I might like this one myself.

  2. The last Russian historical I read was The Bronze Horseman...time to read some more! This sounds like a book I'd really enjoy - fantastic review!

  3. How wonderful it must have been to visit the Ukraine. I enjoyed this book as well and hope to see many more Russian settings in historical novels.

  4. I have been wanting to read this one for a while. Like Kat I read The Bronze Horseman and I loved it and have been meaning to read another book set in Russia. This sounds like the perfect book.

  5. I enjoyed your review of this book. Mine will be running on my blog Monday. Like you, I seem to have been bitten by the Russian bug lately. I'm really glad to hear the author is at work a follow-up that covers Catherine's actual reign!

  6. Meg- you've been busy this month!! I'm a Russophile myself! The last Russian book I read was "The Amber Room.". I have not had time to review it yet and It's non fiction. But it's about a room in the Catherine Palace made of amber that was stolen by the Nazis! Its been recreated now. If you google it and look at hhe pictures you will love it I think. It's been called the eighth wonder of the world!


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