I love historical fiction. That being said, I always end up reading books from the same time periods which usually happens to be either Ancient Egypt, or Tudor England. Partly due to my own interest in those time periods and partly due to the absolutely saturated market of books chronicling that time period. Try as I may, I have never been able to branch out, until I was given the opportunity to read and review The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak. After reading this book I am extremely please that this was the book that I chose to broaden my horizons and read about a different time period.
The Winter Place brings us to Imperial Russia in the 18th Century and introduces us to Catherine the Great. But this is a very different Catherine the Great than the one that you are understandably thinking of. Instead when we first meet Catherine, she is still just Sophie, a poor German Princess as she is brought to the Russian court of Empress Elizabeth to become the bride of the Grand Duke. Indeed in Sophie we witness a softness and a vulnerability that isn’t really present in the woman we know her to become.
Told through the viewpoint of Varvara, which is the Russian version of Barbara, who is a cleaver orphan living in the Russian Court working as a seamstress. Varvara soon uses her cleverness and her talent for languages when she is put to use as a spy in the palace on behalf of the Empress. While conducting her new duties, she is put to spy on Princess Sophie, she ends up forming a friendship with the foreign Princess. It is through this friendship that we are able to bear witness into Sophie’s eventual transformation into Catherine the Great. It was fascinating to watch Sophie’s metamorphosis and to see the events that shaped her life and as a result, her empire.
Eva Stachniak has done an absolutely masterful job at depicting one of the most intriguing time periods. Stachniak’s writing introduces one of history’s greatest women, and while very detailed, her writing is never boring. She is able to mix fact with fiction so well that The Winter Palace is a book I have no doubt that I will return to time and time again.