Sunday, January 15, 2012

Review of THE WINTER PALACE by Eva Stachniak

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 servant could rise high, if she was willing to sacrifice enough to achieve her goals. Varvara is more than up to the task— a book binder’s daughter with little to recommend her save her ingenuity, she enters service as a secret “tongue”, ferreting out petty secrets to amuse her employers, until the young German princess Sophie arrives to wed the Tsarina's nephew.

In lovely, maligned Sophie, Varvara finds the perfect ploy to both succeed in her quest for independence and play a pivotal role in the future shaping of a ruler. But as Sophie grows from naive pawn to expert manipulator of circumstance, her own fight for survival in the ruthlessness of the court unravels Varvara's carefully constructed plans. Sophie will, in time, seize fame as Catherine the Great; Varvara’s destiny, however, becomes less certain as she begins to realize the price her intrigues and trust in the fickle nature of power could cost her— and those around her.

Elegantly written and gilded with details of the flamboyant decadence of the Russian court, THE WINTER PALACE is a compelling and vivid novel that is sure to please fans of historical and literary fiction alike.

Please check back for an exciting Q&A with Eva, coming soon!