Perfect for fans of Hilary Mantel, Alison Weir, and Philippa Gregory, Empress of the Night is Eva Stachniak’s engrossing new novel, told in the voice of Catherine the Great as the Romanov monarch reflects on her ascension to the throne, her rule over the world’s greatest power, and the sacrifices that made her the most feared and commanding woman of her time.
A critically acclaimed historical drama and instant number-one international best seller, The Winter Palace brilliantly reimagined the rise of Catherine the Great through the watchful eyes of her clever servant Varvara. Now, in Eva Stachniak’s enthralling new novel, Catherine takes center stage as she relives her astonishing ascension to the throne, her rule over an empire, and the sacrifices that made her the most feared and commanding woman of her time.
As the book opens, the charismatic monarch is in her final hours. From the fevered depths of her mind, Catherine recalls the fateful trajectory of her turbulent life: her precarious apprenticeship as Russia’s Grand Duchess, the usurpers who seek to deprive her of a crown, the friends who beg more of her than she was willing to give, and her struggle to know whom to trust and whom to deceive to ensure her survival.
"We quarrel about power, not about love," Catherine would write to the great love of her life, Grigory Potemkin, but her days were balanced on the razor’s edge of choosing her head over her heart. Power, she learns, is about resolve, strategy, and direction; love must sometimes be secondary as she marshals all her strengths to steer her volatile country into a new century and beyond - to grow the Romanov empire, to amass a vast fortune, and to control a scheming court in order to become one of history’s greatest rulers.
Gorgeously written with vivid detail and lyrical prose, Empress of the Night is an intensely intimate novel of a woman in charge of her fortunes, who must navigate the sorrows, triumphs, and hopes of both her soul and a nation.
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Good but not as "Great" as the first book
I really enjoyed Eva Stachniak’s The Winter Palace and had been greatly looking forward to Empress of the Night. And while it’s certainly an enjoyable read, the sequel didn’t quite live up to my expectations. For some reason, Stachniak employed a completely different narrative strategy in Empress of the Night, trading in the lively first-person voice of Catherine’s servant Varvara for Catherine’s own death bed ruminations. The difference in narrators, along with a convoluted plot structure, makes Empress of the Night less immediate and far more confusing than its predecessor. While the action in The Winter Palace unfolded over years, in Empress of the Night it all takes place on the final two days of Catherine’s life. In order to span the remaining decades of Catherine’s life, the book relies on a muddled series of flashbacks, so that it is often unclear from paragraph to paragraph what event or decade is being discussed. While Stachniak’s prose is still lyrical and evocative, the book overall is not as gripping as the first.
The narrator does a lovely job with an almost impossible task, creating different voices for a huge cast of characters with widely varying accents. Her voice is very expressive and dramatic, which makes the audio version more compelling than the print. Her authentic Eastern European accent conveys an undeniable authority and makes the tale more coherent and enjoyable to follow.