Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Review: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak
Barbara Nikolayevna otherwise known as Varvara is orphaned and brought to Empress Elizabeth, her father knowing that his time might be short asked the Empress to take care of his daughter. The empress fulfills her promise to the book binder, and accepts Varvara into her court. Varvara’s initial experiences living among the help was arduous, and intimidating. It’s clear that she wasn’t born to be a seamstress, and worries about her future. Her life soon changes when she catches the eye of Count Bestuzhev, chancellor and spy master. She must master the skills of observing, listening, lock picking and spying. Varvara is to keep Empress Elizabeth happy, and report back her findings. Eventually she is given a prominent position in the court, and attends to Princess Sophie, the soon to be Catherine the Great. Varvara befriends a vulnerable Catherine and tries to encourage and protect her. When Catherine was left alone, Varvara was there. Through Varvara’s eyes we experience the tight reign of Empress Elizabeth and the rise of Catherine.
The Winter Palace is a great historical fiction novel, filled with great characters, rich history and original fictional plots. The story is told through the eyes of Varvara, and we learn about Empress Elizabeth’s paranoia, and strict rules. Varvara working as a spy is very entertaining. Catherine begins the novel as an innocent teenager, dreaming of her wedding. She soon finds herself in a loveless marriage and a doormat for the powerful Empress. Catherine must bare an heir, there will no tolerance for her if she does not. The Grand Duke Peter will not come to her bed, and Catherine doesn’t know what to do. Catherine learns to play the game, and she becomes selfish, manipulative, and spiteful. She remains generous and loyal to her friends. Catherine’s character is intense and captivating.
Eva Stachniak writes beautifully, and I was gently swept away into the Russian Imperial Court. The characters and descriptions are written so vividly that readers will have no trouble visualizing the setting. It’s clear that Stachniak’s undertook extensive research to write this book. At times it did feel a little long-winded, but that is something that i’ve come to expect from historical fiction. I thought the story was full of rich details, and Vavara’s fictional character was a great addition to the story. Overall, The Winter Palace is a great historical fiction novel. I recommend this one for historical fiction lovers.