3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This review is from: The Winter Palace (A novel of the young Catherine the Great) (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)A real humdinger of a historical novel and I loved it from beginning to end.
First of all the wealth of detail about the Russian court is fascinating, matched only by that of the Winter Palace and the daily life of all its inhabitants. Also the pattern of the novel matches some of the classic Russian epics.
The unfolding story of Varvara, the Polish girl who is taken on at the palace as a minor servant, and her rise to minor aristocracy by means of her talent as a royal spy and confidante is completely entrancing. She is trained young as a "tongue" to the Empress Elizabeth, but more to her Chancellor, Bestuzhev, and she quickly learns how to use the knowledge she gains from being unnoticed.
Most touching is her later marriage to Egor, a marriage of convenience at first - especially the convenience of having her own daughter. As the novel progresses Stachniak brings in some telling detail about the depth and type of love that grows between the couple; they form a mutual dependence based on understanding, the kind of domestic love that is undemonstrative but telling.
The Empress Elizabeth is a monster of royal willfullness. She is the peak of a mountain of intrigue and gossip the huge landscape of which burgeons and changes beneath her to keeps her in her place. She is the grande monstre of the piece and her every appearance heralds some great prose portraiture.
As for Catherine, we see her grow from the gauche German princess with the pushy mother to the great ruler she was to become. However, she also learns well the lessons taught by Elizabeth even though she was the cruel victim of many of the Empresses machinations. The writer engenders a huge depth of feeling for both Varvara and Catherine throughout the book.
It is a magnificent piece of work, full of scenic splendour, suspense, intrigue and sumptuous detail and I look forward to reading more by this author.