The Winter Palace is Eva Stachniak’s third historical novel, and her first featuring the formidable and fantastic character of Russia’s notorious Catherine the Great.
The novel features as narrator a young Polish girl, Varvara, who as a result of tragedy striking her early life, ends up indoctrinated as an aide of Empress Elizabeth’s court in St Petersburg. Silhouetted against Stachniak’s crisp descriptions of a beautifully emotive and picturesque snow-laden Russian city, Varvara proves to be strong, seductive and determined. We read on in simultaneous horror and admiration as she is taught how to listen, how to watch and how to manipulate. The young orphan becomes the perfect spy.
Empress Elizabeth brings another unexpected turn in Vavara’s eventful short life when she pairs her with Sophie, a young princess and potential bride for Elizabeth’s weak and difficult-to-like heir. As Varvara becomes friends with Sophie, the reader slowly realises that Sophie’s destiny is to become the notorious Catherine the Great. As the young princess grows into the legend, we watch through Varvara’s well-trained eyes, experiencing the fear, secrets and seduction of this iconic and fascinating period of Russian history.
Stachniak’s The Winter Palace is a well-researched triumph, and accordingly, she is working on her second novel about the dazzlingly captivating Catherine the Great. I can’t wait to read it.