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.
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak is a novel about a young woman named Barbara (or Varvara for the Russian version). She was the daughter of a Polish bookbinder who, through fate, finds herself an orphan and is sent to work in the palace of the elderly Empress Elizabeth. Before long, a marriage is arranged between a young princess named Sophie to Elizabeth’s only heir, her nephew. Princess Sophie is then renamed as Catherine she befriends Sophie. Behind the scenes, Barbara is left with no choice but to become a spy within the palace and soon she is trapped by intrigues and divided loyalties.
Told in first person narrative voice of Barbara, the novel quickly engaged me. Catherine and Elizabeth were portrayed as difficult antagonists, which added a continual thread of conflict from start to finish. Their personalities continually evolved and kept me interested. The author wrote a beautifully researched novel about the rise of a fascinating woman of history. Readers need to be aware that this is novel is only indirectly about Catherine the Great told through the eyes of another woman.