The Winter Palace

  • by Eva Stachniak
  • Narrated by Beata Pozniak
  • 18 hrs and 37 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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.

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What the Critics Say

“Stachniak’s brilliant, bold historical novel of eighteenth-century Russia is a masterful account of one woman’s progress toward absolute monarchical rule.... This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don’t have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph.” (Booklist)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Not a bodice ripper!

Just a good story. This really is a great historical novel, very well written and researched. I feel like I have spent a few days in St. Petersburg, in the cold even in August. The intrigues at court will make you squirm, but there is no content that can not be listened to in mixed company. I wish the book had a little more detail about how the coup was actually carried out (maybe the editors took too much out)I would have like more, but all in all a satisfying listen. Beata Pozniak took me by surprise, and it took me a few minutes to get it. But her narration was so perfect that I believed every minute she was the main character. She brought life to the wonderful prose and will make you feel like you were there. Russian and Polish in slightly broken English, her voice is haunting and unforgettable. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
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- Cookie "Cookie"

Did I listen to a Different Book?

After reading so many great reviews I was excited to listen to The Winter Palace. Historical fiction is hands down my favorite genre. I love seeing an event in history woven into a story. When well written, I almost feel I was there. I also very much enjoy stories of Russia and have been very happy listening to Russian Winter and The Romanov Bride.

The Winter Palace fails on so many levels. First, as others have said, the narration was terrible. It's not only the accent, it's more the odd way the narrator emphasizes her sentences. With a good enough story it could be overlooked but this story was boring, boring, boring. I almost didn't finish it.

Next was the poor character development. Catherine the Great is seen as a simpering, crying, and maipulated fool, and her husband is a man who never grew up and a total idiot. The Empress Elizabeth is cruel and horrible. Who could care what happened to any of them? Historically accurate or not (no idea), I could not have cared less about any of them. Even the protagonist was a shallow, weak woman who only took control at the end of the story and by then I was just happy for it to end. Was there nothing redeeming about any of these people? We never see any inkling of why Catherine was named The Great.

Another issue was how the author continually used foreshadowing that never went anywhere. I found it annoying to hear the narrator say "I later wished I had noticed the bitterness in his voice." So I expected that to be explained "later," but it never was. Either the editing was terrible or the author just doesn't weave a story well.

And I was so often distracted with the dullness of the story I found myself lost with who was who and had to rewind to listen to pieces to figure out what was happening, which generally wasn't very much. The author also has a tendency to refer to people by two names and it gets confusing to whom she is referring. In the first half of the book the Chancellor of Russia is important character, and then in the second half he loses his position and is refered to by name. Somewhere along the line I missed his name and so I was continually trying to figure out if this guy was the former Chancellor or some other male character. I don't think the reader/listener should have to work that hard.

Finally, this book just failed to grab my attention or keep it for any length of time. Just a disappointment overall. Hopefully my next credit will be a much better listen!
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- "tsaller"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 01-10-2012
  • Publisher: Random House Audio