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The Winter Palace
A Novel of Catherine the Great
Ewa Stachniak Published by: Random House Publishing Group, 2012 Strony / Pages: 480, soft cover ISBN: 978-0-553-38689-9
List price: $15(Save 15% off)Online price: $12.75
From award-winning author Eva Stachniak comes this passionate novel that 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 loftier, more dangerous ambitions. 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.

Publishers Weekly
As told from the perspective of Varvara, a Polish servant girl in the 18th century Russian court, spies and lovers lurk everywhere, while brilliantly bedecked royals indulge their every whim. When readers first meet Catherine the Great, she is 14-year-old Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, brought by her mother to Empress Elizabeth as a potential wife for Elizabeth’s nephew and heir, the future Peter III. Sophie quickly realizes that to achieve her marital ambitions, she must please the empress more than her mother or even Peter, who is more interested in playing soldier than he is in Sophie. On advice from the conniving Chancellor Bestuzhev, Elizabeth engages 16-year-old Varvara, well-versed in languages, espionage, and storytelling, to befriend Sophie and spy on her. Varvara’s loyalties soon shift to Sophie. After she leaves the court to marry a palace guard, Varvara secretly keeps in touch with Sophie, who becomes Grand Duchess Catherine, despised by an increasingly petulant Peter and distrusted by the demanding Elizabeth. Since Stachniak (Necessary Lies) can’t invent anything more bizarre than actual czarist history, she wisely focuses on portraying the liaisons of Russian court life, with Varvara’s story paralleling Catherine’s before taking its own unique turn. A sequel about Catherine’s reign is already in the works.

Eva Stachniak
was born in Wroclaw, Poland. She moved to Canada in 1981 and has worked for Radio Canada International and Sheridan College, where she taught English and humanities. Her first short story, “Marble Heroes,” was published by The Antigonish Review in 1994, and her debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the in Canada First Novel Award in 2000. She is also the author of Garden of Venus, which has been translated into seven languages. She lives in Toronto, where she is at work on her next novel about Catherine the Great, which Bantam Books will publish.
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