The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak is a historical fiction novel based on the early life of Russian Empress Catherine the Great. Through the eyes of bookbinder’s daughter turned lady-in-waiting Varvara it tells the story of Catherine’s arrival at court and of her navigation through Court politics to the Imperial Throne itself.
Now, historical fiction is not a genre of which I read a lot; however I was intrigued by this one and it turned out to be the perfect antidote to my waiting-for-Dorothy-Must-Die reading slump. I don’t know a great deal about Russian history and I found myself checking Wikipedia from time to time to learn more and to help me separate fact from fiction.
What I liked
Engaging protagonist. Although the novel is about the rise to power of Catherine the Great, we follow her story through Varvara’s eyes as Varvara herself goes through her own journey. Varvara is intelligent, resourceful and has a keen eye for observation. Although she starts off relatively powerless, by the end of the book, she has amassed considerable wealth and influence, making hard choices along the way. In that respect her journey mirrors Catherine’s.
The vivid picture Stachniak paints of court glamour and intrigue. It’s always fun to read of grand ballrooms glittering with chandeliers and jewels and of lords and ladies wearing elaborate costumes. It’s equally interesting to read about the power plays between the players and Stachniak describes this beautifully.
What I didn’t like
There was nothing I didn’t enjoy about The Winter Palace. Indeed, I’ve already picked up the sequel, The Empress of the Night from Audible.
I gave The Winter Palace four stars out of five.