The Winter Palace

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The Winter Palace

by Eva Stachniak

Doubleday Canada | January 3, 2012 | Trade Paperback

The Winter Palace is rated 3.4444 out of 5 by 9.
Behind every great ruler lies a betrayal. Eva Stachniak's novel sweeps readers into the passionate, intimate, and treacherous world of Catherine the Great, revealing Russia's greatest matriarch from her earliest days in court, where the most valuable currency was the secrets of nobility and the most dangerous weapon to wield was ambition.
 
Two young women, caught in the landscape of shifting allegiances, navigate the treacherous waters of palace intrigue. Barbara is a servant who will become one of Russia's most cunning royal spies. Sophia is a pretty, naive German duchess who will become Catherine the Great. For readers of superb historical fiction, Eva Stachniak captures in glorious detail the opulence of royalty and the perilous loyalties of the Russian court.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 464 pages, 9.21 × 6.35 × 1.27 in

Published: January 3, 2012

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 038566656X

ISBN - 13: 9780385666565

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent read The Winter Palace, by Eva Stachniak is an absorbing, well-written read, spare on embellishment, indicating an author sure of her craft and subject. The story chronicles the rise of Catherine the Great of Russia through a subsidiary character, that of a young woman adopted into the intrigues and espionage of the Russian court. Throughout the narrative Stachniak, an Amazon Canada First Novel Award Winner in 2000, weaves an intimate knowledge of environment and impeccably researched historical detail. This is an excellent read.
Date published: 2013-08-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Eight Bookcases Check out my review of Stachniak's work on my blog at: http://8bookcases.blogspot.ca/2012/12/the-winter-palace-by-eva-stachniak.html
Date published: 2012-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Surprised! I had to read this for my book club in a short time and was worried I wouldn't get through it. Not a problem at all--I couldn't put it down! I was reminded of how much I used to read historical fiction and wondered why I stopped. I didn't know anything much about Catherine the Great and have always wanted to know more. This novel fit the bill. I can't comment on the accuracy of the information, but I came away with a feel for the place and time period.The characters were interesting and realistic. I am anxiously waiting for the second volume.
Date published: 2012-10-22
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A bit disappointing I downloaded the preview for this book on my Kobo and was looking forward to reading it. It was one of the rare books that I couldn't wait to finish so that I could read something else. It's not that it didn't flow well - it just lack excitement. This book could have easily been so much better.
Date published: 2012-05-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing . . . O.M.G. This was the never-ending book. The title was totally misleading, it was not about Catherine the Great, rather it was about an orphaned Polish immigrant who served at the Winter Palace. It should have been titled "A story with Catherine the Great in it, but she really doesn't play a major role" . . . but I guess that was a little too wordy. The characters were flat and never fully developed and the writing, oh the writing. If short, choppy, fragmented sentences and disconnected paragraphs work for you than you will not have a problem reading it, however if these aggravate you as much as they do me, it might be difficult to get through the novel. The facts are great and well researched but the style of writing leaves much to be desired. As for its rating . . . well it actually falls somewhere between 2.5 and 3 . . . there were some decent parts among the rubble. Unfortunately this book was a major disappointment and I do not strongly recommend it. Please visit my blog for my full review and my additional thoughts and comments: http://bookchateau.blogspot.ca/2012/04/winter-palace-eva-stachniak.html
Date published: 2012-04-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Couldn't put it down!! For me, "The Winter Palace" was a page turner and I carried the book around with me so I could read a paragraph or two whenever I had a free minute. I was disappointed to see I have to wait almost a year for the sequel to be released. I liked Eva Stachniak's writing style very much and ordered her "Necessary Lies" and am looking forward to receiving it. I should point out the way Eva Stachniak"s protagonist is neither Elizabeth or Catherine, for me, enriched the story and made it even more enjoyable as you are rooting for another character, Barbara, who does not have the power or options of the other women. At times, Barbara is treading a very fine line and is juggling her position with the royal women - though her loyalty is with Catherine. A very enjoyable read!
Date published: 2012-03-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Expectations fall short. It was an interesting book and I love Russian history but all through the novel I was waiting for some action, after all it was suppose to be about a spy! I felt as though it never delivered on the actual premise and felt like I was reading a nice well written history book. The main character's life barely registered as part of the story line and just the same as the upper gentry treated her, a person barely worth noticing, I felt the author did the same. Not sure if I will read the next book in the series or not. I also agree with another reviewer that it was refreshing to see another novelist work on something other than Tudor fiction.
Date published: 2012-03-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A Passionate Saga This historical fiction is an imaginative recreation of the Russian court from 1743 to 1764, an epic story of three amazing women who lived at the palace. We are introduced to Empress Elizabeth, the youngest surviving daughter of Peter the Great, German princess Sophie and in a shrewd move the author invented a fictional character, Barbara (Varvara) an orphaned Polish girl who became a court spy for both rulers. This story is essentially hers and her narration takes us behind every closed door in Elizabeth’s court. In 1744, Princess Sophie of Prussia comes to the Russian court for her betrothal to the Grand Duke Peter (Elizabeth’s nephew and heir to the throne). Sophie converts to Russian Orthodoxy and after her wedding becomes Catherine, the Grand Duchess. Sophie soon realizes she needs an insider, someone to be her confidante, giving her a heads up thus protecting her against those who are determined to see her fail. With Varvara by her side, Sophie/Catherine becomes a legend, surviving trials, tribulations, and the coup that allows her to rise and assume the throne of all of Russia. This passionate saga captures the atmosphere of eighteenth century Russia exceptionally well stressing the importance of loyalty, the key to a powerful monarchy. Success is often determined by a person’s ability to conspire, spy and manipulate everyone around you. The reader is slowly drawn into the day to day life of Imperialist Russia examining the intrigues and extravagance from the point of view of a servant, at times this description was a little over done. I was disappointed at first to see Catherine being portrayed as a hazy and opaque figure and never really achieving the importance of a leading figure then I remembered that Varvara is the prime player. Just when Catherine’s dreams are about to materialize and my interest was at a high point the end came to a screeching halt. Apparently in the next installment “The Empire of the Nights” we will see things from Catherine’s point of view and maybe this will help to paint a more complete picture of the times.
Date published: 2012-03-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from a good solid read If I was able, I would have given this book 3 1/2 stars. I enjoyed it more than not. The descriptions were wonderful and the author appeared knowledgable about this period of Russian history. I did find the plot drawn out. The book did not absorb me or make me want to keep reading. By page 250 I was wondering when it would end. This book taught me a little more about 1750 Russian life and the early life of Catherine the Great. Overall, it was a good read.
Date published: 2012-03-08

– More About This Product –

The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace

by Eva Stachniak

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 464 pages, 9.21 × 6.35 × 1.27 in

Published: January 3, 2012

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 038566656X

ISBN - 13: 9780385666565

Read from the Book

I could have warned her when she arrived in Russia, this petty German princess from Zerbst, a town no bigger than St. Petersburg’s Summer Garden, this frail girl who would become Catherine. This court is a new world to you, I could have said to her, a slippery ground. Do not be deceived by tender looks and flattering words, promises of splendor and triumph. This place is where hopes shrivel and die. This is where dreams turn to ashes. She has charmed you already, our Empress. With her simplicity, the gentle touch of her hand, the tears she dried from her eyes at her first sight of you. With the vivacity of her speech and gestures, her brisk impatience with etiquette. How kind and frank Empress Elizabeth Petrovna is, you have said. Others have, too. Many others. But frankness can be a mask, a disguise, as her predecessor has learned far too late. Three years ago our bewitching Empress was but a maiden princess at the court of Ivan VI, the baby Emperor, and his Regent Mother. There had been a fiance lost to smallpox, there had been other prospects derailed by political intrigues until everyone believed that, at thirty- two and without a husband, the youngest daughter of Peter the Great had missed her chance at the throne. They all thought Elizabeth Petrovna flippant and flighty then, entangled in the intricacies of her dancing steps and the cut of her ball dresses— all but a handful who kept their eyes opened wide, who gambled on the power of her father’s blood. The French call
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From the Publisher

Behind every great ruler lies a betrayal. Eva Stachniak's novel sweeps readers into the passionate, intimate, and treacherous world of Catherine the Great, revealing Russia's greatest matriarch from her earliest days in court, where the most valuable currency was the secrets of nobility and the most dangerous weapon to wield was ambition.
 
Two young women, caught in the landscape of shifting allegiances, navigate the treacherous waters of palace intrigue. Barbara is a servant who will become one of Russia's most cunning royal spies. Sophia is a pretty, naive German duchess who will become Catherine the Great. For readers of superb historical fiction, Eva Stachniak captures in glorious detail the opulence of royalty and the perilous loyalties of the Russian court.

About the Author

EVA STACHNIAK was born in Wroclaw, Poland. She came to Canada in 1981 and has worked for Radio Canada International and Sheridan College, where she taught English and Humanities. Her first short story, "Marble Heroes," was published by the Antigonish Review in 1994, and her debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the Amazon.com/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2000. Stachniak is also the author of Garden of Venus. She lives in Toronto.

Editorial Reviews

“The Winter Palace is indeed as gorgeous, opulent and lush as its titular location.” —National Post “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 a deft entertainment.” —The Washington Post “[B]rilliant, bold . . . This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don’t have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph.” —Booklist“Eva Stachniak's new novel should establish her as a pre-eminent writer of historical fiction. ... The Winter Palace is seamless in its depiction of a place and time…. what Stachniak has given us is not history, but a dramatic recreation of what the witnesses to history actually manage to see and do.”—Quill & Quire“Stachniak captures dramatic moments with flair, and the Russian Imperial court—with its fox-fur blankets, gilded furniture, and carafes of cherry vodka—appears in glorious splendor. This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don’t have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph.” —Booklist “Stachniak sets the scene extravagantly with details of sumptuous meals, elaborate wardrobes, and cunning palace politics. Longtime readers of English and French historical novels will delight in this relatively unsung dynasty and the familiar hallmarks of courtly intrigue.” —Library Journal “In The Winter Palace, Stachniak creates a story filled with political intrigue, secr
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Bookclub Guide

1. The novel starts with a quotation from a letter the future Catherine the Great wrote to the British Ambassador, Sir Hanbury-Williams: Three people who never leave her room, and who do not know about one another, inform me of what is going on, and will not fail to acquaint me when the crucial moment arrives.

What does this sentence tell us about the future empress of Russia?

2. Varvara is an immigrant to Russia. She is an outsider in many other ways, a tradesman’s daughter among aristocrats, a Roman Catholic among Orthodox Christians, a Polish wife of a Russian officer. How does she cope with the need to belong? How much is she willing to sacrifice for a sense of home?

3. Catherine too is an immigrant. In 17th century Russia, keen on developing its national identity, her Prussian blood is suspect. How does Catherine cope with xenophobia? How does she use it to her advantage?

4. Much of the novel is about power. The characters crave it, gain it, lose it. How are the principal women characters: Varvara, Catherine, and Elizabeth defined by their understanding of what power is? What in their background made them think that their definition of power is the right one?

And what do men in the novel think of power? Powerful women? Their role in a country ruled by a woman?

5. Why is power so important to these three women? What do they wish to do with it? How much are they willing to sacrifice for it? And, when they finally have it, what do they actually do?

6. Motherhood is another pivotal issue in the novel. Elizabeth wishes to be a surrogate mother to her nephew, Peter, and later to Catherine’s son Paul. Catherine and Varvara give birth to their own children. What does motherhood mean to each of them? How does it transform them? Why?

7. Darya and Paul are two children whose births we witness in the novel. How does their childhood differ? What is expected of them? What emotional future do envisage for them and why?

8. Love, lust and marriage are always present at the Winter Palace. How do the three principal characters, Varvara, Catherine and Elizabeth, understand them?  How do they use love, lust, and marriage to further their own needs? Why?

9. The Russian court is the backdrop of the novel. Historical sources confirm that spying was ubiquitous there. How does being a spy affect Varvara? How does having spies affect Elizabeth and Catherine? How does being watched affect the lives of the courtiers?

10. Loyalty is another important theme in The Winter Palace—national, political, personal.  How does each of the three main characters define loyalty? How does this definition affect their actions?

11. Peter the Great has transformed Russia. Is his presence felt in the novel? In what ways? What is your sense of Russia under Elizabeth and later under Catherine? Why does the country feel snubbed by the rest of Europe? How do Catherine and Elizabeth play to this sense of rejection? What are their visions for Russia? Do they really differ that much?

12. Toward the end of the novel Catherine decides to reassess her own needs as an empress and her obligations as a friend and lover. Is she justified in this decision? How does she do it? What are Varvara’s expectations of their friendship and what is Catherine’s assessment of it?

13. The novel ends when the reign of Catherine II has just begun. How much has Catherine sacrificed for her position? Is it possible to predict from her behavior as Grand Duchess what kind of a ruler is she going to be? What are her best qualities? Her worst?

14. Varvara leaves Catherine’s court. In the last chapter of the novel she meets one of Catherine’s former lovers, recently elected the king of Poland. What are Varvara’s feelings about Stanislaw’s prospects? What does she fear? Why?

15. The novel ends with the image of Varvara beginning to tell Darya the story of her life in Russia. How much do you think she will tell her child? What will she keep to herself? Why?