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This sequel to 2012's Winter Palace begins with an aging and ailing Catherine the Great recalling her difficult, stifled life as daughter-in-law to Empress Elizabeth. After Elizabeth's death, Catherine organizes a coup that leads to the death of her husband, Peter, and her ascension to the Russian throne. In expanding her empire she also broadens cultural influences both within and outside of Russia. As she slips in and out of consciousness, the dying ruler reflects on her many lovers and advisers, her years in power, and her complicated relationships with her family. As Catherine faces her own death, she balances the sacrifices and privileges of her extraordinary life and seeks solace in the small moments when she experienced love and tenderness. VERDICT Stachniak's insight into the opulent lives of Russia's rulers continues in this reflective second novel. Though the story wanders through time and memory, historical fiction fans will appreciate this personal account of a formidable and, indeed, infamous ruler. [See Prepub Alert, 9/16/13.]—Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.