- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: Bantam (January 10, 2012)
- ISBN-10: 0553808125
- Source: Publisher
Varvara (Russian for Barbara) is the daughter of a book binder. When her mother and father pass away within a year of one another, Varvara is taken under the employ of the Empress Elizabeth and finds a home in her court. With Count Bestuzhev as her mentor, Varvara becomes an all-seeing eye to all the things that take place before her. She’s waiting for a better opportunity, something to give her the life she’s long desired.
When a young princess Sophie arrives from Zerbst, Varvara has new hope. Sophie is destined to marry the Empress’ nephew & eventually become Catherine the Great. Sophie needs an insider, someone to be her confidante, protecting her against those who would like to see her fail. With Varvara by her side, Sophie/Catherine becomes a legend, surviving trials, tribulations, and the coup that allows her to rise and assume the throne of all of Russia.
The Winter Palace is a beautifully written, dramatic glimpse inside the world of Catherine the Great. With the intensity of a suspense novel, readers get a unique view of Catherine’s youth, from a young, shy girl to an incredibly strong leader. Stachniak’s writing is so detailed, the reader will feel as though they are walking the halls of the palace themselves, a witness to all the (often cruel) actions. Most importantly, this isn’t merely a novel about Catherine the Great, but one about the confidant who was by her side as she rose to power. Varvara was a truly impressive character. Despite having a difficult start, she evolved into a truly powerful woman.
To some, the pacing may be slow. Personally, I thought it was perfect, allowing the growth of these two great women to be revealed slowly, rather than rushed. Fans of history, particularly Russian, will enjoy this fine novel. Highly recommended.