The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great (Catherine, #1)
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The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great (Catherine #1)

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3.53 of 5 stars 3.53  ·  rating details  ·  5,866 ratings  ·  879 reviews
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The Wall Street Journal • The Washington Post

From award-winning author Eva Stachniak comes this passionate novel that illuminates, as only fiction can, the early life of one of history’s boldest women. The Winter Palace tells the epic story of Catherine the Great’s improbable rise to power—as seen through the ever-watchful eyes of...more
Hardcover, 444 pages
Published January 10th 2012 by Bantam (first published January 1st 2012)
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Erin
Find the enhanced version of this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot....

Straight out of the gate I have to give Stachniak a lot of points. In a market flooded with Tudor lit, The Winter Palace stands apart. A lover of history and historic fiction, I was overjoyed to see an author branching out. Of course, I wont be happy until someone writes a solid fiction on Crown Prince Rudolf and Baroness Marie Vetsera but Catherine the Great is definitely a step in the right directio...more
C.W.
In the crowded historical fiction marketplace, THE WINTER PALACE stands out for being a book set in mid-eighteenth century Russia, an unusual setting. But what makes this novel unique is its perspective. Told from the viewpoint of Varvara, a young Polish woman who rises to influence in the Russian Court of Tsarina Elizabeth as a spy, we are swept into a tumultuous era when the fortunes of an entire empire hovered on the often incomprehensible whims of the aging tsarina, and where an enterprising...more
Becky
This book was selected for my Historical Fiction group's January group read, and since I'm trying (somewhat successfully so far, but the year is still young) to read more group read selections, I read this one.

And... Well, I liked it, but I can't say that I loved it. It really wasn't what I was expecting at all, though that's not really a bad thing. Just different.

I had expected this novel of Catherine the Great to be about Catherine the Great. Instead, it was about the girl, Sophie, who would...more
librarianka
This book sets the stage for the next book, a clever idea. In The Winter Palace we read about what went on before the relatively obscure German princess Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg transformed herself into the empress Catherine the Great.

I found it quite an intense story about what, we would call today, an abusive and toxic environment and women who found themselves living inside it. Sophie and everybody else is placed under the tyranny of empress Elizabeth, who is a cru...more
Lolly's Library
3.5 stars

Eva Stachniak is an excellent writer. She immerses the reader fully into the story, allowing one to hear the susurration of silken petticoats, feel the chill bite of the howling Russian winter wind, smell the perfume and mildew which permeated the grand yet dilapidated Winter Palace. She does so with complex sentences, unlike some historical fiction writers *cough* Philippa Gregory *cough* who can't seem to string together sentences more involved than the "See Jane, See Spot, See Jane a...more
Misfit
Novels on Catherine the Great are few and far between, and I believe most of those are out of print and rather hard to find, so I was thrilled to bits to see a new one coming out. While this is billed as "A Novel of Catherine the Great", the narrator is Barbara (Varvara in Russian), a daughter of a Polish bookbinder who works as a spy in the household of the Empress Elizabeth, beginning at the time a young Princess Sophie is brought to court to marry Elizabeth's nephew and heir. Barbara and the...more
Sue
The Winter Palace is historical fiction, based on historical sources of the life of Catherine the Great of Russia. We see the center of the empire through the eyes of one member of the court, an insignificant child initially brought to Russia by her Polish parents. This child, Barbara, soon to be renamed Varvara, enters into the world of court intrigue after her parents death and we follow the intrigues of court life under Elizabeth, Grand Duke Peter, the search for a wife for Peter, and the tra...more
AliceinWonderland
- I was so looking forward to this book, only to be disappointed AGAIN!
- The unfortunate part is that the premise of the book, including the time period and all of the characters *could* have had such an interesting story to tell, but Stachniak falls short.
- To start off with, I believe the choice of a first person narrator told from the point of a view of a spy or "tongue" under the guise as a chamber maid ruined the writer's ability to truly potray Catherine the Great.
- I mean, who is she real...more
Josie
[Audiobook version]

Now that the days are shorter, I was looking for a sweeping historical novel to listen to on the dark drive to and from work. This seemed ideal -- an orphaned Polish girl working in the Russian court becomes one of Empress Elizabeth's "tongues" (a palace spy) but ultimately ends up helping the young German princess Sophie to become the notorious Catherine the Great.

Except, my knowledge of Russian (and European) history of that era is veeeery vague, so I honestly have no idea w...more
Manda Scott
I was recently sent two outstanding books for cover quotes. This is the first:

Published in January next year by Doubleday, 'The Winter Palace' is the story of the ascent of the poor little German princess, Sophie who, dragged to the Russian court as bride for the youthful Grand Duke (a Prussian, who spends his life playing with his toy soldiers and fails to consummate their marriage), rises in time to become Catherine the Great.

But she is not great when we meet her: she's the princess with darne...more
Jane
A very well written, magnificent novel on the rise to power of Catherine the Great of Russia. Told by a servant, the Polish orphan Varvara, recruited as a spy [called gazette or tongue] by the conservative Elizabeth II, the novel tells of Varvara's years in Elizabeth's service and beyond. Varvara recounts the coming of a noble German teenager, who has been chosen to marry the Empress's nephew, the childish and nasty Czar Peter. Catherine suffers then chafes under the years of cruelty of her 'mot...more
Dem
The winter palace by Eva is an interesting and easy to read Novel and if you are somebody who does not like to get bogged down with historical dates and facts but like to learn a little of Russian royal courts, then this is the book for you, however if you are somebody who loves historical fiction with a capital L and want your novels to read like history books then you will not enjoy this book.

I picked this book up recently at an airport bookshop as the two books I had packed were heavy reading...more
Dorine
The Winter Palace  A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva StachniakFor hardcore Historical fiction lovers, THE WINTER PALACE by Eva Stachniak is an excellent book. The novel gives great insight into Russian history and I thought it was fascinating.

It's written from the point of view of Varvara, a young orphaned woman, who becomes a spy within the Empress' palace. Her father was a bookbinder and upon his death, Varvara is left within the Empress' care. At first, she doesn't have much choice about becoming a spy - it's either that or continue working as a seams...more
Jodi
Winter Palace was a bit like 19th century Russian literature—dark, very descriptive, poetic and way too long. Sorry, but once I finished Anna Karenina I had to wonder why she didn’t face the train 25 pages into the book. Never have blanched at a long book, but this one was needlessly so.
My other issue was that the main character (forget it being about Empress Catherine, it was mostly about Empress Elizabeth) was a humble girl who worked her way up to be a spy for Elizabeth, for the Chancellor a...more
Sally
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Linda C
This book is another example of the need for Goodreads to offer half stars. I am somewhat reluctantly giving it four stars, because I think it was better than a 3 star book, but I'm not sure that it really deserves four. That being said, although it had some flaws, it was a good read.

As other reviewers noted, this really wasn't a novel of Catherine the Great, but rather a novel of her friend and spy, Barbara (or Varvara in Russian), a Polish girl working in the imperial palace. I didn't read it...more
Cheryl
Misleading back cover or reader error? Maybe a little bit of both. While I thought that the book would be a lot about the Catherine the Great, with some of the Catherinian Era enlightenment, Catherine really takes a back seat to Empress Elizabeth until about 300 pages in. About 75 pages in, Catherine slowly enters her story, 200 pages in and Elizabeth might as well have been the main character, and 300 pages in, you get to see some of Catherine's prowess (because before all this, her character s...more
Karly
As a lover of historical fiction, I enjoyed this novel very much. In all honesty, I am a Tudor's snob, so taking a break from Henry VIII's escapades was a surprisingly welcome relief. The book is long, but I got through it quickly, as I found Stachniak's plot was circular and repetitive at times. I liked Varvara very much, but felt the book could have centered on her more than it did. For a novel boasting it's intricate, candid look at Catherine the Great, it focused a heck of a lot on her prede...more
Ladiibbug
Historical Fiction - Catherine the Great #1

*January 2014 Group Read - G/R Group Historical Fictionistas

For those more familiar with Russian or world history, please see other G/R reviews which are more in depth and written with much more authority.

I know virtually nothing of Russia's history, let alone from 1756 under Empress Elizabeth until Catherine the Great came to power.

This is an exceptionally well written and engrossing book, which I would compare to Philippa Gregory's historical fiction...more
lynn
I'm a sucker for historical fiction, and the details of life in the Russian court were lavish and seeming well researched. The story was really more about the "tongue" or household spy that reported back to Empress Elizabeth, and her progress in insinuating herself into Catherine's confidences. It was a good read, not great.
MaryannC.Book Fiend
I wasnt sure if I was going to like this, I read a mixed bag of reviews on this book. This was my first book about Catherine The Great and I have to say I really liked it. I liked the details and the author's writing style. It wasnt complicated, it was just a nice, solid read that kept me coming back for more.
Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews)
I'm still a little puzzled by The Winter Palace, even about three weeks after finishing it. It purports itself to be a novel revolving around the epic story of Catherine the Great, known originally as Sophie, during her first years in the Russian, and Romanov, court. What is perplexing is that the story is purportedly about Catherine, but not told from her perspective and even as just Sophie, the character is absent for much of the narrative. Additionally, the main power player and the most eye-...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
Brief Summary:
Barbara is Polish, daughter of a bookbinder who moved the family to St. Petersburg for work. Before his death, her father asks a request of Empress Elizabeth, for whom he once excellently repaired a book: that she watch out for his daughter. This earns Barbara, or Varvara in Russian, a place working in the winter palace. She works, for a time, with the seamstresses, something for which she has no talent. Then, because of her own intelligence and her desperation to do something bett...more
Care
More than anything else I hate to see a truly gifted writer fail to achieve potential. To succeed in crafting wonderful prose, creating an enveloping atmosphere, only then to fail when history itself has given you the very plot and characters you need spin out your tale in a stunning coup de grace!

Eva Stachniak chose an interesting, completely fictional narrator, which does allow her interesting roving viewpoints throughout the palace. Her narrator is the orphaned daughter of the bookbinder to t...more
Carol
This is a very engrossing and exciting historical fiction read set in the 1700's in Russia. As `The Winter Palace' by Eva Straniak opens in 1743, we meet the young girl, Varvara or Barbara and her father, a Polish bookbinder. And we learn the story of how she became a "tongue" or spy for the Chancellor of Russia and later for Empress `Elizabeth the Merciful'. Since Varvara had lost her mother earlier and her father was worried about what would become of if he died, her father slowly worked his w...more
Sheila
This was a complicated, challenging and enjoyable read - lots of characters with difficult names. It followed the up and downs of the Russian court under first, Elizabeth, then briefly Grand Duke Peter and finally Catherine the Great/II as seen through the eyes of Vavara/Barbara a Polish Bookbinder's daughter. As a spy at court and later a friend and confident of the young Catherine, she is given intimate access to the Russian royals both in state and in private. Largely the book is about power...more
Christy B
This is the first book I've read about Catherine the Great – fiction or non. I watched a documentary about her some years back, but I can barely remember it. So, my knowledge of the woman is dismal.

The book is called The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great, but really, it's not. First off, Catherine, or Sophie as she's first called, doesn't appear until a ways into the book. And she doesn't become empress until, oh, 90% in. The book is really about a young Polish woman named Barbara,...more
Kat
I tried reading Anna Karenina, and I'm not sure if it was the translation or the story, but it was a painful read. On the one hand, I'm not sure what that says about my literary tastes as a recent poll of 125 contemporary authors declared it "the greatest novel ever written." On the other hand, when I saw that William Faulkner was one of those polled, things made a bit more sense to me. But I was craving a tale of Russian romance and nobility, so I picked up "The Winter Palace." This book was re...more
Michele bookloverforever
fictional telling of how catherine/sophia, a german minor princess came to be the tsarina of russia in the 18th century. could have been better. it is told through the eyes of woman acting as a spy first for tsarina elizabeth on catherine then on elizabeth for catherine. Like I said, it could have been better. not enough of a plot for the main character. no meat for the story so to speak and considering the scandals in catherine's coming into her power and her court after that, well, like I said...more
Jeanne
Interesting look at the politics behind the scenes in 18th century Russia, leading up to the time of Catherine the Great's accession to the throne. The story of Catherine II's rise to power is told from the point of view of one of the palace "tongues" or household spies, and it is a delicious combination of history, politics, intrigue and gossip. When Varvara Nikolayevna becomes an orphan, she is taken in by Empress Elizabeth because of a promise she'd made to Varvara's father, a skilled bookbi...more
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Eva Stachniak was born in Wrocław, Poland. She moved to Canada in 1981 and has worked for Radio Canada International and Sheridan College, where she taught English and humanities. Her debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2000. Her first novel of Catherine the Great, The Winter Palace, has been included in the Washington Post 2011 list of most notable...more
More about Eva Stachniak...
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