Monday, January 2, 2012

REVIEW + GIVEAWAY: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

 Synopsis (from Amazon): 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. 

My Thoughts: Eva Stachniak has a smoothly flowing writing style that pulls you right into the story and she leaves no stone unturned for immersing the reader in the period.  The people, politics, court happenings, descriptions of palaces, and the Russian landscape are all rendered in great detail.  The story is narrated by Varvara, a young girl who comes to live at the court of the Empress Elizabeth after losing her father.  At first she has a hard time adjusting to palace life but soon she is taken under the wing of Russian Chancellor Bestuzhev who trains her to function as his spy (or "tongue") and also spy for Elizabeth, the volatile Empress of all the Russias who presides over her court of loose morals chooses Catherine (then Sophie) to be the bride of her nephew and heir Peter.

While the book is titled The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great, the story really belongs to Varvara as she narrates her information gathering for Bestuzhev and the Empress.  Varvara knows that her position within the palace depends on how much knowledge she can obtain and that failure to please could move her back to a life of poverty.  She becomes a close confidant of Sophie/Catherine when she arrives and soon takes to spying for her as well.  It is clear that the marriage between Catherine and Peter is not a happy one and as the story continues on we see Catherine subjected to cruelty and ostracism by those around her which fuels her ambitions to take the crown herself.  The book is full of court scandals and political intrigues.  It is an environment where the characters must learn to adapt of be crushed in the viciousness of it all.

I did like this story but at the same time I felt I wasn't getting the full picture with Catherine because we are only seeing the side of her Varvara sees (and I was proven correct on this in the end).  The book is a very well researched glimpse of Catherine's unlikely rise to the throne of Russia.  The biggest problem for me was that even though the writing was good and I appreciated the amount of detail, the story was really drawn out.  There wasn't a whole lot of action occurring throughout and what little there was didn't happen until about the last 75 pages of the book.  Also I was under the assumption that with this being "a novel of Catherine the Great" that it would be covering her reign but it stops at the point shortly after she assumes the throne.  I do believe the author is writing another book on Catherine though so hopefully we will get the second half of her story there.  

This book is being released on 1/10/2012.

I received this book as a win from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Program.  These are my honest thoughts on the book.

Now for the GIVEAWAY!  This giveaway is for an Advanced Readers Edition of The Winter Palace.

Open to: US and Canada
To enter: Leave your name and email in the comments.  1 additional entry each for posting about this giveaway on Twitter, Facebook, or on your blog. 
Giveaway ends on: Midnight January 10th.  Winner will be announced on the 11th.  
Good Luck!  :)


  1. book sounds really interesting.I will tweet at rhondareads.

  2. This one looks right up my alley.

    achickwhoreads @ gmail dot com

  3. I didn't enjoy this as much as I'd hoped to, and the narrative didn't work well for me either - I was expecting more on Catherine. You do have to hunt down Annette Motley's Men on White Horses.

  4. I tried for this on librarything and didn't get it so I would love to win it here. Thank you.

    facebook -

    kaiminani at gmail dot com

  5. I received this book as an egalley, and enjoyed it very much. I would love to win a copy to offer. here is my review of it:
    just retweeted your post.
    and shared it on facebook, as a public post.
    ehc16e at yahoo dot com

  6. I would love to add this to my shelf! Thanks!


  7. No need to enter me as I have this one on my shelf to read. I'm a little sorry to hear that it is drawn out. I have been excited to read some books set in Russia. Thanks for the review.

  8. Thanks for the review and giveaway!

    susanna DOT pyatt AT student DOT rcsnc DOT org

  9. I would love to win a copy of this book....sounds like a good read.

  10. Thanks for the review and giveaway! I would love to read this one!

  11. Pssst! I missed the enter the give away bit. Please don't enter me, thank you.

  12. I would love to read this!

  13. This sounds sooooo good!

  14. Oooh...I'm going to St Petersburg in May and this is on my to-read list before then -- I'd love a copy! :)



  15. I'd love a chance to read this one!!

  16. Sounds like a fantastic book :)