The Winter Palace

A Novel of Catherine the Great

Stachniak, Eva, 1952-

Book - 2012
Average Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.
The Winter Palace
Random House, Inc.
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 an all-but-invisible servant close to the throne.

Her name is Barbara—in Russian, Varvara. Nimble-witted and attentive, she’s allowed into the employ of the Empress Elizabeth, amid the glitter and cruelty of the world’s most eminent court. Under the tutelage of Count Bestuzhev, Chancellor and spymaster, Varvara will be educated in skills from lock picking to lovemaking, learning above all else to listen—and to wait for opportunity. That opportunity arrives in a slender young princess from Zerbst named Sophie, a playful teenager destined to become the indomitable Catherine the Great. Sophie’s destiny at court is to marry the Empress’s nephew, but she has other, loftier, more dangerous ambitions, and she proves to be more guileful than she first appears.

What Sophie needs is an insider at court, a loyal pair of eyes and ears who knows the traps, the conspiracies, and the treacheries that surround her. Varvara will become Sophie’s confidante—and together the two young women will rise to the pinnacle of absolute power.

With dazzling details and intense drama, Eva Stachniak depicts Varvara’s secret alliance with Catherine as the princess grows into a legend—through an enforced marriage, illicit seductions, and, at last, the shocking coup to assume the throne of all of Russia.

Impeccably researched and magnificently written, The Winter Palace is an irresistible peek through the keyhole of one of history’s grandest tales.

Praise for The Winter Palace

“A majestic and splendidly written tale of pride, passion, intrigue, and deceit that is brought alive from the first page to the last.”—Rosalind Laker

“At the same time baroque and intimate, worldly and domestic, wildly strange and soulfully familiar, The Winter Palace offers a flickering glimpse of history through the gauze of deft entertainment.”—The Washington Post

“A thrilling point of view . . . Readers are treated to a firsthand account of the young princess’s slow ascent to the throne, a path deliciously strewn with discarded lovers and sanguine court intrigues.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

“[A] brilliant, bold historical novel . . . This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don’t have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph.”—Booklist (starred review)

Baker & Taylor
A reimagining of the early years of Catherine the Great traces the story of a naive German duchess as observed by young Barbara, a servant who watches her mistress's elevation and rises to become one of Russia's most clever royal spies.

& Taylor

A reimagining of the early years of Catherine the Great traces the story of a naive German duchess as observed by young Barbara, a servant who watches her mistress's elevation and rises to one of Russia's most clever royal spies. By the author of Necessary Lies.

Publisher: New York : Bantam Books, c2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780553808124
Branch Call Number: FIC S
Characteristics: 444 p. ; 25 cm.


From the critics

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Dec 10, 2014
  • GLNovak rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

I thought this would be about Catherine the Great, but it is really about Barbara, the spy in the court of Elizabeth, Empress of Russia, Catherine's mother-in-law. Oh, Catherine is in it but the dominant personality is Elizabeth and her court. I enjoyed the descriptions and the pace of the book, but at times found it a little unbelievable that Barbara was not found out and executed. Incredible extravagance set against extreme poverty seems to have been the order of the day here as in France. No wonder there were revolutions. Stachniak tells a good story and does bring these historical characters to life.

Dec 06, 2014

Step into the world of unbelievable splendor aside unbearable poverty. This novel is as close as it gets to actually reading non-fiction. Layered in details and extensively researched. Worth reading.

Jul 28, 2014
  • mayfairlady rated this: 3.5 stars out of 5.

Editing would have improved this one. Some of the detail wasn't crucial and it tended to drag the story down at times.

Jul 08, 2014
  • TheresaAJ rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

I haven't read a "can't put it down" novel in a long time but The Winter Palace fits the bill. It spans the years 1743 to 1764 when Elizabeth is Empress of Russia and Sophie, a young girl, is sent to Russia to be the heir apparent's bride. Decades of court intrigue and political jockeying is narrated by Barbara, a "tongue", who follows Sophie's often treacherous journey to become Catherine the Great. The novel ends shortly after Catherine's rise to the Russian throne. Lots of Russian history told in a fast-paced story.

Feb 28, 2014
  • DanglingConversations rated this: 4.5 stars out of 5.

Great novel, well researched. I have read other Russian Hostory so I felt the story was true to court life and historical times and I loved the perspective from an educated orphan who becomes a palace spy for the young Catherine before she assumes power. I will certainly look for more from this author

Oct 04, 2013
  • Booker70 rated this: 3 stars out of 5.

This was a good book but a bit long winded.

Jun 27, 2013

This is a tale of great suspense that sweeps us through the ages to peek at the young princess Sophie, later Catherine the Great, as she transforms into Russias's most famous Queen. Barbara, our eyes and ears throughout the story is a wonderfully complex character and helps us navigate through the corridors of the imposing Winter Palace.

Jan 14, 2013

Love the book, too bad we have to wait so long for the next one.

Nov 19, 2012
  • librarylil rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

Great read for fans of historical fiction the subject Catherine the Great.

Nov 14, 2012
  • J_Test_4 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

An excellent book.

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Nov 14, 2012
  • J_Test_4 rated this: 5 stars out of 5.

J_Test_4 thinks this title is suitable for 20 years and over


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