To make an historical figure seem real through words and actions must be a challenge. The ending has already been written and the author needs to fashion a believable story, based on letters, accounts, and historical documents that achieves the same conclusion. This story is told through Barbara's (Varvara's) eyes, a young Polish woman whose father was a bookbinder to the Empress of Russia. When she is orphaned, she is taken on to serve in a lowly position as a seamstress, for which she is ill equipped. Through perseverance she becomes noticed by the Chancellor and the Empress for her useful talents; eventually becoming a "tongue"; reporting gossip, stories, actions, etc. When a young, inexperienced, and poor Catherine (Sophia); the future Empress arrives in town - a friendship develops between the two women. And indeed, Varvara also spies for Catherine. But it seems that everyone has spies, multiple ones, and who is spying on whom? Whenever I read a story based on rulers of centuries past, I often wonder how anyone survives. The time period is vividly portrayed - war, allegiances, infidelity, punishment, fashion, Lisbon earthquake, winter, etc. It is the shifting of allegiances that creates the most intrigue. I enjoyed the story. I feel that Catherine's development, from her arrival to ascension, was well described and her transformation was presented in a believable manner. The pace was good and the storylines, were well developed.
I thought this would be about Catherine the Great, but it is really about Barbara, the spy in the court of Elizabeth, Empress of Russia, Catherine's mother-in-law. Oh, Catherine is in it but the dominant personality is Elizabeth and her court. I enjoyed the descriptions and the pace of the book, but at times found it a little unbelievable that Barbara was not found out and executed. Incredible extravagance set against extreme poverty seems to have been the order of the day here as in France. No wonder there were revolutions. Stachniak tells a good story and does bring these historical characters to life.
Step into the world of unbelievable splendor aside unbearable poverty. This novel is as close as it gets to actually reading non-fiction. Layered in details and extensively researched. Worth reading.
Editing would have improved this one. Some of the detail wasn't crucial and it tended to drag the story down at times.
I haven't read a "can't put it down" novel in a long time but The Winter Palace fits the bill. It spans the years 1743 to 1764 when Elizabeth is Empress of Russia and Sophie, a young girl, is sent to Russia to be the heir apparent's bride. Decades of court intrigue and political jockeying is narrated by Barbara, a "tongue", who follows Sophie's often treacherous journey to become Catherine the Great. The novel ends shortly after Catherine's rise to the Russian throne. Lots of Russian history told in a fast-paced story.
This was a good book but a bit long winded.
This is a tale of great suspense that sweeps us through the ages to peek at the young princess Sophie, later Catherine the Great, as she transforms into Russias's most famous Queen. Barbara, our eyes and ears throughout the story is a wonderfully complex character and helps us navigate through the corridors of the imposing Winter Palace.
Love the book, too bad we have to wait so long for the next one.
An excellent book.
Could not get into the style of writing at all. By page 60 I gave up. If you like novels based on Russian history Robert Alexander's 3 books are awesome.
J_Test_4 thinks this title is suitable for 20 years and over
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