Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Winter Palace-Eva Stachniak

The Winter Palace

Eva Stachniak

Bantam, Jan 10 2012, $26.00

ISBN: 9780553808124

Escorted by her mother to Moscow, fourteen years old Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst meets Empress Elizabeth. Sophie wants to be the wife of the next emperor, Elizabeth’s nephew Peter as the first step to her BHAG of becoming the ruler instead of just the spouse of the ruler. Assessing the situation at court, she concludes her mother and the heir are minor participants for achieving her objective; only the Empress matters.

Chancellor Count Bestuzhev trains Empress Elizabeth’s newest retinue teenage Varvara to work as a master spy. She becomes his eyes and ears when ambitious Sophie arrives at court. However the charming Sophie needs an ally so she recruits Varvara as her partner. Following her achieving her marital goal Sophie’s popularity rises; which angers her mother-in-law, while her husband detests her. She and Varvara remain allies even when the latter is forced to leave the Winter Palace to marry. Sophie, baptized as Catherine, completes her plot to replace her husband on the Russian throne when he forges an unpopular alliance with Prussia.

The Tsarist mid eighteenth century intrigue plays a strong backdrop to the historical biography of two women trusting one another; a major commodity in a court where betrayal is the norm as liaisons frequently implode. The storyline focuses on the lives of the women as Varvara has Sophie’s back while Sophie gives back loyalty. However, the historical stage remains in the background so those readers interested in deep biographies should turn to Robert K. Massie’s works on the Russian rulers (see Catherine the Great, Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs). Fans will enjoy Sophie’s rise to power culminating in a coup that has her on the Russian throne as Empress Catherine II.

Harriet Klausner

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