Customer Reviews for

The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great

Average Rating 4
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Most Helpful Favorable Review

2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

Palace Intrigue at Its Finest

Most people are aware of Catherine the Great as one of Russia's outstanding monarchs, but have no idea of the difficulties she went through to obtain the crown. In this excellent novel, once she marries Peter III, the heir to the throne, the young Catherine is kept in h...
Most people are aware of Catherine the Great as one of Russia's outstanding monarchs, but have no idea of the difficulties she went through to obtain the crown. In this excellent novel, once she marries Peter III, the heir to the throne, the young Catherine is kept in her place by the domineering Empress Elizabeth, her self-absorbed husband, and ambitious and conniving courtiers. Frustrated by being ignored and humiliated, she learns to become skilled at intrigue and conspiracy in order to survive and ultimately prevail. The story is told from the perspective of her trusted servant and spy Barbara, whose own life is inevitably impacted by the constant stress of trying to survive in the dangerous Russian court. The novel tells a great story, and the author is working on a sequel, which I can't wait to read.

posted by emmi331 on February 1, 2012

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Most Helpful Critical Review

17 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

a prettily painted glass bead marketed and hyped as a genuine gem of a novel...

Closing my borrowed copy of The Winter Palace early this morning, I could not help but feel I was holding a prettily painted glass bead marketed and hyped as a genuine gem of a novel. While the reader is promised and enticed by a “keyhole” view of the 18th century Russi...
Closing my borrowed copy of The Winter Palace early this morning, I could not help but feel I was holding a prettily painted glass bead marketed and hyped as a genuine gem of a novel. While the reader is promised and enticed by a “keyhole” view of the 18th century Russian court, the splendor is soon overshadowed and left this reviewer shaking her head in bewilderment and frustration. Although, the attention to historical detail is impressive and Ms. Stachniak has a true talent to capture the grandeur of the era with her meticulous elements; sadly those alone could not prevent the chips and peeling later revealed by: underdeveloped characterization, unexpected vulgar language, repetitive storytelling, weak foreshadowing, and oddly out of place Victorian to Modern language that jarred this reviewer out of a couple chapters. Add to this, the irksome voice of a narrator that mimicked a noisy one-noted bird that I wished would have been silenced by a covered cage or a well placed shoe.

If the potential reader is seeking a novel that keeps an even balance of education and entertainment on all aspects and viewpoints of 18th century Russia, you may be slightly disappointed. While the novel supplies only the basic facts of Catherine the Great’s life at the Winter Palace it focuses more on her intimate life and the drama of those of the court, that may leave the reader wondering what genre or audience the author was really striving for. With all of the displayed private sordid details that unfortunately borderlines on a cheap bodice ripper, it can get overwhelming and another narration would have been appreciated to break up the monotony of the numerous scandalous encounters. While The Winter Palace focuses more on the elite and powerful, the poor serve as a limited background-that leaves much to be desired and explored. In the end, I did not exactly come away wanting to read any type of sequel but it did spark an interest of learning all I can about Russian rulers, superstitions, and history.

posted by -TheLadyinPurple on June 24, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2012

    a prettily painted glass bead marketed and hyped as a genuine gem of a novel...

    Closing my borrowed copy of The Winter Palace early this morning, I could not help but feel I was holding a prettily painted glass bead marketed and hyped as a genuine gem of a novel. While the reader is promised and enticed by a “keyhole” view of the 18th century Russian court, the splendor is soon overshadowed and left this reviewer shaking her head in bewilderment and frustration. Although, the attention to historical detail is impressive and Ms. Stachniak has a true talent to capture the grandeur of the era with her meticulous elements; sadly those alone could not prevent the chips and peeling later revealed by: underdeveloped characterization, unexpected vulgar language, repetitive storytelling, weak foreshadowing, and oddly out of place Victorian to Modern language that jarred this reviewer out of a couple chapters. Add to this, the irksome voice of a narrator that mimicked a noisy one-noted bird that I wished would have been silenced by a covered cage or a well placed shoe.

    If the potential reader is seeking a novel that keeps an even balance of education and entertainment on all aspects and viewpoints of 18th century Russia, you may be slightly disappointed. While the novel supplies only the basic facts of Catherine the Great’s life at the Winter Palace it focuses more on her intimate life and the drama of those of the court, that may leave the reader wondering what genre or audience the author was really striving for. With all of the displayed private sordid details that unfortunately borderlines on a cheap bodice ripper, it can get overwhelming and another narration would have been appreciated to break up the monotony of the numerous scandalous encounters. While The Winter Palace focuses more on the elite and powerful, the poor serve as a limited background-that leaves much to be desired and explored. In the end, I did not exactly come away wanting to read any type of sequel but it did spark an interest of learning all I can about Russian rulers, superstitions, and history.

    17 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 26, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Could have been so much more!

    [b]The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great[/b] by Eva Stachniak (¿¿¿-barely)

    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 the Empress Elizabeth I of Russia, whom he begged to care for the girl in the event of his death. Upon that event she ends up in various lowly positions in the court, is made a mistress and spy of the Chancellor of Russia and begins her rise to fame. The author uses her considerable talents to create an ambience of espionage, sumptuous feasts, decadent clothing, and furtive love affairs, all of which the Russian courts of the age were well known for.

    There is no “author’s note” attached to the book, other than one which states that this is a work of fiction. So why attach the subtitle “A novel of Catherine the Great” to the book? To serious readers of historical fiction such a note is a tag denoting a work which is seriously researched and essentially a work “biographical fiction”. Catherine is not even the major character in the book-Elizabeth is. Catherine comes to Elizabeth’s court as a young bride to Elizabeth’s heir, her nephew, Peter, and she and the narrator, Varvara, form an uneasy friendship, but Elizabeth remains that dominante force in the novel.

    Some historical elements of the novel, such as Elizabeth’s relationships with Peter and Catherine’s children (and their paternity), the access that Elizabeth allowed Catherine to her children, and Peter’s character were fairly well portrayed. However, I felt that she grossly missed the mark in her portrayals of Elizabeth and Catherine. Elizabeth is portrayed as a completely debauched woman. There is no doubt that she loved parties and beautiful things, but she ruled Russia for twenty years and was very much the daughter of Peter the Great, continuing many of the positive things which he began, none of which comes across in this novel at all. Due to it’s subtitle, you feel like you are supposed to be focusing your attentions on Catherine, but so much attention is paid to Elizabeth that I couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied that her character was not fully developed and that it was so one-sided and unfairly portrayed. She was a woman of many talents who made many contributions to Russia during her reign. This novel ends shortly after the death of Elizabeth and Catherine’s seizure of power. Eva Stachniak is working on a sequel, continuing the reign of Catherine, as she becomes Catherine the Great. I sure hope she focuses on something other than the twenty something lovers that Catherine cycled through her bed in her lifetime. This could have been a wonderful book about two very strong empresses and a narrator who fought her way up from nothing. Instead it felt like two debauched empresses and an abused orphan-made-whore swimming through the mire that was imperial Russia.

    This one barely merits three stars from me, and that only because Eva Stachniak writes some lovely atmospheric prose, and while she often fails to develop her characters, she does perfectly capture their per

    9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Palace Intrigue at Its Finest

    Most people are aware of Catherine the Great as one of Russia's outstanding monarchs, but have no idea of the difficulties she went through to obtain the crown. In this excellent novel, once she marries Peter III, the heir to the throne, the young Catherine is kept in her place by the domineering Empress Elizabeth, her self-absorbed husband, and ambitious and conniving courtiers. Frustrated by being ignored and humiliated, she learns to become skilled at intrigue and conspiracy in order to survive and ultimately prevail. The story is told from the perspective of her trusted servant and spy Barbara, whose own life is inevitably impacted by the constant stress of trying to survive in the dangerous Russian court. The novel tells a great story, and the author is working on a sequel, which I can't wait to read.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2012

    Goldenash

    Leaders den.

    1 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2012

    The only disappointment was that it ended. Looking forward to t

    The only disappointment was that it ended. Looking forward to the next book!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2012

    You get a glimpse at the young Catherine the Great, but it's re

    You get a glimpse at the young Catherine the Great, but it's really a story about the lady's maid, Barbara, who is resourceful, flexible in her allegiances and willing to spy for whoever seems to hold the most political clout at any given moment. The chilly Russian atmosphere is perfectly enthralling and the writing is very good.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 1, 2012

    Solid Historical Fiction

    I enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the second in the series. The book is the story of the journey of Catherine the Great from a young, naive princess to her coronation told through the eyes of her servant/spy. The story had some slow segments, but also had exciting elements.....a good wintertime read. I recommend this book to lovers of historical fiction.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2012

    Great to read

    The vivid tale of Russia and the Empire

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2014

    enjoyable, if you enjoy this type of genre

    Insight into life in Catherine's court intertwined with an interesting story

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 27, 2014

    westcoast reader

    I really enjoyed this fiction based on fact. Easy interesting read. Characters well developed. Constant espionage - what times these must have been!

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  • Posted October 25, 2013

    fun fiction with a load of history thrown in

    Amazing what has gone on throughout history to bring people to the throne and of again. It definitely kept my interest and can't wait to read Eva Stachniak's next book.

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  • Posted September 13, 2013

    WONDERFUL BOOK!!

    This story is very easy to fall into and is beautifully written. Anyone who loves history will love this book. I can't wait for Eva's next book on the life of Catherine the Great to come out in March 2014!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2013

    Good story, not quite finished.

    Still reading this story about the secrets, tattling, and scandal. Hard to put down, but at times a little slow. But an interesting read that will take me to researching characters in this book.

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  • Posted May 24, 2013

    Best read in a long while!!

    This book is completely engrossing. It spins a tale of intrigue and humanity and history in a lovely setting. It is compelling, well written, intelligent and still a page turner! I am a voracious reader. Everything from fantasy to history to science fiction and everything in between, and this the best book I have read in ages!

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  • Posted May 24, 2013

    Uneven Reading

    This story starts off very interesting but as the story drags on it loses it's punch. I was ready for it to end about 100 pages sooner.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2013

    Loved It!!!

    Wonderful story,interesting characters,a tad slow in spots but I really enjoyed this one and can't wait for the next.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2013

    Highly recommended

    Totally fascinating glimpse into Russian history with all of its palace intrigues. For anyone interested in historic novels this is a must read! Look forward to future book by Eva Stachniak.

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  • Posted May 24, 2013

    Highly recommended -historical content informing

    I love historical novels. When you separate the fiction from the fact and see all the factual references used, you come up with a great way to learn history. If you love historical novels you will love this one.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2013

    Loved it!

    Kept me interested . Great twist at the end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2013

    Captivating & unexpected

    Though a work of fiction, the author's considerable research is evident in the persons, events, and intrigues described from an unexpected viewpoint. Minor details about clothes, rooms, and conversations made this history real and enjoyable. Four stars instead of five for what I felt was an abrupt ending, but I look forward to the sequel.

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