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The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great

(Catherine #1)

3.58  ·  Rating details ·  12,108 ratings  ·  1,377 reviews
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 an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne.

Her name is Barbara—in Russian, Varvar
Hardcover, 444 pages
Published January 10th 2012 by Bantam (first published 2012)
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Sam Not that much. There is nothing too explicit. The only "sexual" part is described very indirectively

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Average rating 3.58  · 
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 ·  12,108 ratings  ·  1,377 reviews

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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
Oct 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Alice Poon
Feb 29, 2016 rated it really liked it

I'm giving this novel 3.7 stars.

This was an entertaining novel that read like a melodrama. The plot is believable and fastidiously executed. The writing is melodious and sentimental. The novel is immensely rich in descriptive details, especially about court etiquette, palatial decor, clothes and jewelry. Having recently read Robert Massie’s factual non-fiction title Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, I can avow that this novel is based on meticulous research.

The novel is written from the
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
Apr 27, 2011 rated it liked it
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
May 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
- 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
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
Jan 09, 2015 rated it liked it
The story of becoming Catherine the Great starts interesting. However, one-fourth through the book, the story starts slowing down. Half-way through it is stagnant, not making any progress. It is concentrated on painful journey of Catherine the Great to reach the throne while Empress Elizabeth is ruling.

The story is told by Varvara who becomes the closest confidante to Catherine the Great. Varvara’s story is the most interesting part. Her father’s skill of bookbinding, especially skilled in gold
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
Jan 06, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: russian-history
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
[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
May 04, 2019 rated it liked it
The writing is good, but the pacing is slow. Too many times the author makes vague foreshadowing remarks that get annoying. Ultimately, this is the story of another woman. Catherine the Great is more of a side figure.
Dec 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really so enjoyed this! Right up my alley. Historical Fiction and court intrigue. Politics, succession, warring sides. Relationships, espionage, lavish balls, masques, and dances. Paranoia, crafty long sight planning.

I had always wanted to know more about Catherine the Great. And since this book was all about her rise to Empress, I suppose now I will have to read the sequel.

I think what what was hardest for me about the book, is the way children are treated - particularly children of heirs. K
Manda Scott
Oct 02, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: historical
The Winter Palace A Novel of Catherine the Great by Eva Stachniak For 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 se
MaryannC. Book Freak
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.
Meg - A Bookish Affair
Sep 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Guys, I've been bitten by the all things Russian bug. Lucky for me, 2012 is shaping up to be the year of Russian lit, especially in the genre of historical fiction, which is one of my favorites as you may have figured out.

I was so excited once I heard this book was coming out. Back in August, I visited Odessa in Ukraine, which had basically been planned out by Catherine the Great. There are statues and plaques of her everywhere in the city. It's a cool city; definitely one of the more tradition
Megan Baxter
Jan 12, 2014 rated it liked it
This is the other historical fiction I was reading while I was reading Wolf Hall, and musing about my reactions to both. I would still say that Wolf Hall is a step above most historical fiction I've ever read, but this wasn't bad. It wasn't earth-shattering, either. But not bad.

Note: The rest of this review has been withdrawn due to the changes in Goodreads policy and enforcement. You can read why I came to this decision here.

In the meantime, you can read the entire review at Smorgasbook
Dec 29, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 02, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: historical
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
Nov 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
It was a wise decision of the author to use a character like Varvara to give us a glimpse into the backstage of imperial Russia. Through her eyes over time, we can enter rooms and goings-on otherwise closed to the outside world. As she learns about this secret world, we learn about it with her, becoming as aware as her to the significance of all the small gestures, the gossip, the politics. As she tires of the paranoid and loveless life in the palace, so do we, wondering how it was possible 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
Feb 26, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: hf-european
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
Erin Al-Mehairi
Mar 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The Winter Palace, by Eva Stachniak, was released this January and I am so happy to have finally been able to complete this outstanding fiction work regarding the rise of a woman history knows as Catherine the Great. Surprisingly, after an over 30 year reign (which was the longest by any female ruler in Russia (1762-1796)), Catherine II did not have a novel on the shelves about her until this one! Stachniak certainly takes the shelves by storm with this historical fiction of grand design and inc ...more
JG (Introverted Reader)
Barbara is a Prussian bookbinder's daughter who moves to Russia with her family so that her father can have better work opportunities. After the deaths of her parents, Barbara goes to work in the Imperial Palace, where she quickly makes herself useful by becoming a spy. She is ideally placed and of the perfect age to befriend young Sophie when she arrives in the palace to marry the Grand Duke Peter, heir to the Imperial Throne. Sophie is renamed Catherine and Barbara remains by her side as she i ...more
Linda C
Feb 29, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2012
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
Jan 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Beautifully, brilliantly done. This is what good historical fiction should be. Stachniak tells the story of a woman at the court of first Empress Elizabeth and then Catherine the Great with a marvelously skilled hand. The brilliance is in the narration. Rather than doing a lot of irritating meta-narration all the time, the protagonist Barbara shares her thoughts with us, but lets us see through her eyes to things that are happening that she may not necessarily notice. It's subtle but extremely a ...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,
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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 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

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