The Winter Palace (Catherine #1) by Eva Stachniak

The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher:  Bantam

Summary:  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. 

I bought this on my Kindle quite a while ago & finally got to reading it as it was a monthly pick for a historical fiction reading group that I’m a member of. The story is told by Varvara (or Varenka, as she is called by Catherine) who is “the tongue” of Catherine. We are told of both Catherine’s & Varvara’s arrival to the palace of the Empress & how their lives entwine like the bees in the amber stone that Catherine once gifts to Varvara. It’s a story that tells of great palace intrigue & there’s plenty of spying and people doing their best to stay one step ahead of unfavor. I loved it. Varvara’s voice easily swept along & I even enjoyed reading about her life when she and Catherine were estranged for long periods of time. Their woes, travails & victories were fascinating to read about.

By the end, Catherine has ascended to the throne & I had the feeling that things we’re really about to get good, especially since there’s another estrangement between Catherine & Varvara. Alas, I’m still sure it does but that isn’t in this book. This is a series you see, not a stand alone book. I had no idea when I bought this that this would be a series as there wasn’t any indication of that in the titling or summary. And even with that being a mild disappointment, I am perfectly happy to read the next book. I’m so taken by both Varvara & Catherine as they’ve grown into women that I want to know where life & their decisions take them.

I’d definitely recommend this but only if you’re really wanting to get stuck into another series. I have more than a few to finish up & this series is now on that list.

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