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The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great

(Catherine #1)

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  10,756 ratings  ·  1,307 reviews
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 o
Hardcover, 444 pages
Published January 10th 2012 by Bantam (first published 2011)
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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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3.59  · 
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 ·  10,756 ratings  ·  1,307 reviews

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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
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
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
[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
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
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 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
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.
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
Christina (Confessions of a Book Addict)
Varvara becomes an orphan at a young age and her fate doesn't look promising until Empress Elizabeth of Russia hires her as a seamstress. The Chancellor of Russia takes her under his wing and makes her his spy. She must report on all the events surrounding the Empress. Essentially, Varvara has gone from a seamstress to a spy. Then Sophie, the future Catherine the Great, comes to court to hopefully marry Elizabeth's nephew, Peter. The two young girls, despite their differing stations in life, bec ...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
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
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, russia
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
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
JG (The 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,
Karin Gastreich
Jan 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is the story of the rise of Catherine the Great, as told from the point of view of Varvara, one of the "tongues", or spies, of the Russian court. Varvara is a woman of humble origins whose fate intertwines with the young princess destined to become Empress of all the Russias.

The novel packs a lot of power into the opening chapters, as the depth of intrigue, politics, and passion are revealed through the eyes of a young, vulnerable, but ambitious Varvara. Unfortunately, about 2/3 of the way
Jan 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Historical Fiction - Catherine the Great #1

Good Reads: Historical Fictionistas Group: January 2014 Group Read

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 fi
Kat Tischler
Apr 07, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
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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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