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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.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Cookie on 01-13-12
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.
15 of 15 people found this review helpful
By Alana on 01-14-12
Great story-Authentic narration-Fantastic journey!
I love historical novels and Eva Stachniak is like the Joseph Conrad of this genre. Her powerful sense of storytelling and vivid use of language are simply mesmerizing. Moreover, Beata Pozniak’s narration perfectly captures the exotic beauty of the special time and place of the Russian court. With so many colorful and complex characters in Winter Palace, the narrator provides a beautiful range of foreign accents (Polish, German, French & British) and unique intonation to each one to make this a truly authentic and unforgettable journey.
The clever invention of this novel is that it is told from the point of view of Barbara, a young girl, who arrives at the royal court as a lowly seamstress after the death of her parents. Her guile and ambition soon take her on a path to becoming a master spy with secrets that change the course of history. Since Barbara was born in Poland, Pozniak's portrayal of her with a slight Polish accent gives the character a wonderful resonance. Her hypnotic timbre was so engaging it pulled me into the imperial bedrooms of the Russian Winter Palace and dazzled me with the political intrigues of the Royal Court. I soon felt that I was, like Barbara, becoming a super spy. Thanks to the atmospheric narration I could not stop listening. With Stachniak’s innate sense of storytelling and Pozniak’s remarkable gift for character portrayal, I felt transported through the bitter Russian winter to the magnificent palace of Catherine. What a terrific ride!
5 of 5 people found this review helpful