Welcome to the Historical Fiction Online forums: a friendly place to discuss, review and discover historical fiction.
If this is your first visit, please be sure to check out the FAQ by clicking the link above.
You will have to register before you can post: click the register link above to proceed.
To start viewing posts, select the forum that you want to visit from the selection below.

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 9581
Joined: August 2008
Location: Seattle, WA

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

Post by Misfit » Sun September 11th, 2011, 3:30 pm

Novels on Catherine the Great are few and far between, and I believe most of those are out of print and rather hard to find, so I was thrilled to bits to see a new one coming out. While this is billed as "A Novel of Catherine the Great", the narrator is Barbara (Varvara in Russian), a daughter of a Polish bookbinder who works as a spy in the household of the Empress Elizabeth, beginning at the time a young Princess Sophie is brought to court to marry Elizabeth's nephew and heir. Barbara and the newly renamed Catherine become friends (making Barbara a double agent of sorts), and the narration continues through Catherine's becoming Empress. Fascinating stuff, yes?

Well, no. At least not in this one.

I'm generally not fond of first person narratives, but this one really started off well despite that. I liked Barbara's voice and I liked the way she managed to impart a lot of historical background without endless exposition. I liked the spy in the household bit, and at first it was believable as Barbara was such a minor servant, but towards the end her indispensability to all and sundry as well her intimate knowledge of everything that happened began to stretch credulity. I also felt the choice to marry Barbara off to one of Elizabeth's soldiers and remove her from the household for seven years was a poor one, because at that point anything that happened had court had to be relayed to her second-hand via letters or visitors and thus began the info dumps and I began nodding off...

I couldn't help comparing this novel to Annette Motley's Men on White Horses, a book I read last year and enjoyed a lot. Motley's book focused on Catherine, and I was able to *see* her thoughts and feelings first hand. With Barbara as the narrator, we're only seeing what Barbara thinks about Catherine's thoughts and feelings, and that was a difference that didn't work as well for me as it did for other readers. I also loved what Motley did with Catherine's nutty husband Peter (those poor rats...), and I just didn't find much of that in this book, nor any author's notes to let me know why that was left out. Three stars.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
Divia
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4435
Joined: August 2008
Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Post by Divia » Sun September 11th, 2011, 7:35 pm

This is most dissapointing. I was looking forward to this novel, whcih I guess will be a series of books. She is currently working on the second one.
News, views, and reviews on books and graphic novels for young adult.
http://yabookmarks.blogspot.com/

User avatar
Manda Scott
Reader
Posts: 81
Joined: July 2010
Location: Shropshire, UK
Contact:

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

Post by Manda Scott » Sun October 2nd, 2011, 8:40 am

So.... I come here to post a review of a book not yet published until January - and find there's one already - unlike the previous reviewer, I loved this book - it was impressive in scope, its writing was assured, light, lovely - intricate and moving at once, without losing its momentum, and the subject matter had me captivated from the start. It's the kind of book that sings and stayed with me, heart and soul, for days after I finished with it.

This is my review:

I was recently sent two outstanding books for cover quotes. This is the first:

Published in January next year by Doubleday, 'The Winter Palace' is the story of the ascent of the poor little German princess, Sophie who, dragged to the Russian court as bride for the youthful Grand Duke (a Prussian, who spends his life playing with his toy soldiers and fails to consummate their marriage), rises in time to become Catherine the Great.

But she is not great when we meet her: she's the princess with darned stockings, who risks death or exile daily in a court that hums with intrigue and secrecy, where every lock is waiting to be picked with a hairpin, every secret compartment is known, every conversation overheard by those who stand in the dust-laden corridors behind the walls, with their eyes pressed to peep holes. This is a place where the Empress' word is law and it changes daily with the whims and tempers of the strange, over-indulged, over-sexed, over-pampered woman whose increasingly dissolute lifestyle threatens to bankrupt her country. And to destroy Sophie.

She also has power of life and death over our narrator, Barbara. Daughter of a Poilish bookbinder, Barbara is brought to court to be viewed by the Empress when her father is asked to bind an old book for her. Soon, orphaned, the girl now known as Varvara (the Russian pronunciation of her name) is taken in and dumped into a life as a seamstress. But she is clever, and can read in several languages and soon she is a 'tongue' - one of those spies whose job it is to see and hear all that happens and report to the Empress. Set to spy on Sophie, she becomes her friend and confidante.

And so we see the rise to power of a woman whose ultimate fate we all know. But I didn't know the depradations and cruelty, the mental torture she had suffered; that her children were taken from her at birth and grew up as strangers, that she was taunted by her husband who publicly supplanted her and installed his mistress, how the Orlov brothers gave her love and demanded power in return.

As with Wolf Hall, the tension arises because we know the ultimate outcome, not because we don't. Catherine the Great was a merciless woman, but here, she is shown in all her vulnerability, and if she is without compassion later, there are good reasons. The writing is beautiful: light, assured, intricate but never boring. The author manages to span half a life - from Varvara's youth to her own daughter's adolescence and never once do we miss the intimacy and the passion, the small details of a daughter's foot, kissed in wonder, the terror of a night spent watching and waiting when death might fall at any moment - but never do we lose the momentum, the inexorable forward march of history. It's a book to fall into and become lost in - I genuinely nearly missed my stop on the train because I couldn't bear to put it down and was lost again in the Imperial palace, in the spying and the lies and the half-truths and the ultimate truth beneath.

Few books are worth reading again these days - this is definitely one of them. Like the Russian dolls we all know, each layer peeled opens another beneath, just as intricate, just as beautiful, just as perfect.

This comes out in January - so if you have some book-buying money or a token from Christmas, this will be the one to spend it on.

Manda
*******************************

Bestselling author of
Boudica: Dreaming. INTO THE FIRE out in June 2015: Forget what you thought you knew, this changes everything.

[url=http:www.mandascott.co.uk]http:www.mandascott.co.uk[/url]

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 9581
Joined: August 2008
Location: Seattle, WA

Post by Misfit » Sun October 2nd, 2011, 12:57 pm

Thanks Manda. It's always interesting seeing a writer's perspective as opposed to the reader. This book was offered to Amazon Vine members and the opinions there are a bit mixed as well. I agree about the writing style, but the POV used didn't always work, at least for me.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
Manda Scott
Reader
Posts: 81
Joined: July 2010
Location: Shropshire, UK
Contact:

Post by Manda Scott » Sun October 2nd, 2011, 1:21 pm

It is interesting, isn't it? I was deeply impressed by the writing, and felt that the shift out for 7 years served many functions: It showed Varvara at the mercy of a merciless Empress, who used her then discarded her; it showed her at the mercy of the Chancellor, because she'd given her heart to Sophie/Katinka; it showed her hatred of marriage, so we could later see her loss when her husband dies; it offered a break in the constant intrigue of the palace - and finally, and most important - it showed her love for her daughter, what a mother/child relationship could be, which makes Sophie's loss when her children are taken so much more poignant...

I didn't feel Varvara was at any point more or less indispensible. She had been one tongue among many, and she was only as important as she let herself believe. Nonetheless, she was a key part of Catherine/Sophie's success, which is fine - this is the nature of creating a fictional viewpoint.

I was immensely impressed by this book, as you can tell - I read about 4 a week at the moment and only rarely does one stand out. This week, there were two, which was just astonishing... must be something good in the stars this week.

m
*******************************

Bestselling author of
Boudica: Dreaming. INTO THE FIRE out in June 2015: Forget what you thought you knew, this changes everything.

[url=http:www.mandascott.co.uk]http:www.mandascott.co.uk[/url]

User avatar
Divia
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4435
Joined: August 2008
Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Post by Divia » Sun October 2nd, 2011, 2:43 pm

I'm annoyed because I missed this book on Amazon's vine program last week. I was having "technical difficulties" and when I was finally able to get on it was gone. Which seems odd because normally no one touches HF and YA books. :mad:
News, views, and reviews on books and graphic novels for young adult.
http://yabookmarks.blogspot.com/

User avatar
Misfit
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 9581
Joined: August 2008
Location: Seattle, WA

Post by Misfit » Sun October 2nd, 2011, 3:53 pm

[quote=""Divia""]I'm annoyed because I missed this book on Amazon's vine program last week. I was having "technical difficulties" and when I was finally able to get on it was gone. Which seems odd because normally no one touches HF and YA books. :mad: [/quote]

They are offering an extra shot at the leftover newsletter because of the glitches. I can't say for sure if the book was still available or not.
At home with a good book and the cat...
...is the only place I want to be

User avatar
Divia
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4435
Joined: August 2008
Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Post by Divia » Sun October 2nd, 2011, 6:54 pm

its not. It was sold out the first time. :mad:
News, views, and reviews on books and graphic novels for young adult.
http://yabookmarks.blogspot.com/

User avatar
Divia
Bibliomaniac
Posts: 4435
Joined: August 2008
Location: Always Cloudy, Central New York

Post by Divia » Sun October 2nd, 2011, 6:55 pm

And I've been getting crap for offers lately.
News, views, and reviews on books and graphic novels for young adult.
http://yabookmarks.blogspot.com/

User avatar
cw gortner
Bibliophile
Posts: 1288
Joined: September 2008
Location: San Francisco,CA
Contact:

Post by cw gortner » Tue October 4th, 2011, 1:45 am

I echo Manda's sentiment. I've been asked to endorse the US version and I'm enthralled with the book. The author has a deft touch; she uses detail well and sparingly, but always with a purpose, and the characters are all very compelling. I highly recommend it.
THE QUEEN'S VOW available on June 12, 2012!
THE TUDOR SECRET, Book I in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles
THE CONFESSIONS OF CATHERINE DE MEDICI
THE LAST QUEEN


www.cwgortner.com

Post Reply

Return to “By Author's Last Name R-Z”