Catalogue


The Winter Palace : a novel of Catherine the Great /
Eva Stachniak.
imprint
[Toronto] : Anchor Canada, 2013.
description
483 pages ; 21 cm.
ISBN
9780385666572 :
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
imprint
[Toronto] : Anchor Canada, 2013.
isbn
9780385666572 :
general note
"Anchor Canada edition published 2013"--Title page verso.
Anchor Canada edition.
Originally published: Toronto : Doubleday Canada, ©2012.
catalogue key
9169275
 
Issued also in electronic format.
Purchase; DSO; 2013; RB309190.
A Look Inside
First Chapter
I could have warned her when she arrived in Russia, this petty German princess from Zerbst, a town no bigger than St. Petersburg’s Summer Garden, this frail girl who would become Catherine.
 
This court is a new world to you, I could have said to her, a slippery ground. Do not be deceived by tender looks and flattering words, promises of splendor and triumph. This place is where hopes shrivel and die. This is where dreams turn to ashes.
 
She has charmed you already, our Empress. With her simplicity, the gentle touch of her hand, the tears she dried from her eyes at her first sight of you. With the vivacity of her speech and gestures, her brisk impatience with etiquette.How kind and frank Empress Elizabeth Petrovna is,you have said. Others have, too. Many others. But frankness can be a mask, a disguise, as her predecessor has learned far too late.
 
Three years ago our bewitching Empress was but a maiden princess at the court of Ivan VI, the baby Emperor, and his Regent Mother. There had been a fiance lost to smallpox, there had been other prospects derailed by political intrigues until everyone believed that, at thirty- two and without a husband, the youngest daughter of Peter the Great had missed her chance at the throne. They all thought Elizabeth Petrovna flippant and flighty then, entangled in the intricacies of her dancing steps and the cut of her ball dresses— all but a handful who kept their eyes opened wide, who gambled on the power of her father’s blood.
 
The French call her “Elizabeth the Merciful.” For the day before she stole the throne of Russia from Ivan VI, she swore on the icon of St. Nicholas the Maker of Miracles that no one under her rule would ever be put to death. True to her word, on the day of the coup, she stopped the Palace Guards from slashing Ivan’s infant throat. She plucked the wailing baby Emperor from his crib and kissed his rosy cheeks before she handed him back to his mother and packed them both off to live in prison.
 
She likes when we repeat that no head has been cut off since the day she took power but forbids us to mention the tongues and ears. Or the backs torn to meaty shreds by the knout. Or the prisoners nailed to a board and thrown into a freezing river. Mercy, too, knows how to deceive.
 
Here in the Russian court, I could have warned the pretty newcomer from Zerbst, life is a game and every player is cheating. Everyone watches everyone else. There is no room in this palace where you can be truly alone. Behind these walls there are corridors, a whole maze of them. For those who know, secret passages allow access where none is suspected. Panels open, bookcases move, sounds travel through hidden pipes. Every word you say may be repeated and used against you. Every friend you trust may betray you.
 
Your trunks will be searched. Double bottoms and hollowed books will not hold their secrets for long. Your letters will be copied before they are sent on their way. When your servant complains that an intimate piece of your clothing is missing, it may be because your scent is preserved in a corked bottle for the time when a hound is sent to sniff out your presence.
 
Keep your hands on your pockets. Learn the art of deception. When you are questioned, even in jest, even in passing, you have mere seconds to hide your thoughts, to split your soul and conceal what you do not want known. The eyes and ears of an inquisitor have no equals.
 
Listen to me.
 
I know.
 
The one you do not suspect is the most dangerous of spies.
 
As soon as she seized the throne of Russia, Empress Elizabeth made no secret of her resolve to rule alone, without a royal husband. Since she would have no children to succeed her, she sent for her sister’s orphaned son, Karl Peter Ulrich, the Duke of Holstein. When the young Duke was brought to her, lanky and bone- thin, his eyes bloodshot with exhaustion after the long journey, she pressed him to her heaving bosom. “The blood of the Romanovs,” she announced, as he stiffened in her arms. “The grandson of Peter the Great.” She presided over his conversion to the Orthodox faith, renamed him Peter Fyodorovich, and made him the Crown Prince. He was fourteen years old.
 
She didn’t ask him if he wished to live with her. She didn’t ask him if he wanted to rule Russia one day. Now, right after his fifteenth birthday, she didn’t ask him if he wanted a bride.
 
Princess Sophie Fredrika Auguste Anhalt- Zerbst. It was her portrait that arrived first, and I recall the grand moment of its unveiling. Portraits of this kind are not meant to render a likeness, but to entice. “Her?” I heard Chancellor Bestuzhev say when the Empress mentioned Sophie for the first time. “But why her?” The Chancellor mentioned the need of crafty ties, and hedging one’s bets. Europe required a careful balance of power, he cautioned. The Prussians were growing too strong as it was. “Your Highness should consider a Saxon princess.”
 
The Empress stifled a yawn.
 
“I’ve not decided anything yet,” Elizabeth told him. Her nephew Peter was sitting at her feet, his long white fingers turning the turquoise ring around, as if he were tightening a screw.
 
In the weeks that followed I heard Sophie’s father referred to as a prince of quite exceptional imbecility, a Prussian general not able to control his foolhardy wife for whom the shabby Court of Brunswick had become the measure of all grandeur. The Anhalt- Zerbsts were well connected but poor, shamelessly clamoring for Empress Elizabeth’s attention, reminding her that she once almost married one of them, this tenuous link to Russia their only real hope of attaining significance.
 
When a footman parted the red velvet curtain, we saw a portrait of a slim and graceful figure standing by the mantel, a girl of fourteen, summoned from her studies. We saw the pale- green bodice of her gown, the dainty hands folded on her stomach. Whatever rumors may have reached us, Princess Sophie was not a cripple. No childhood illness had deformed her spine. There was an air of lightness around her; she seemed on the verge of breaking into a cheerful dance. Her chin was pointed, her lips small but shapely. Not quite pretty but fresh and playful, like a kitten watching a ball of yarn unfurl. The painter made sure we would not miss the exquisite pallor of her complexion, the softness of her eyes, the blue flecks of her pupils so striking a contrast to her raven- black hair. Nor could we overlook her ardent will to please.
 
Murmurs, hesitant and vague, filled the room. Courtiers’ words mumbled and slurred so praise could still be retracted, blame turned into a veiled compliment.The art of deception,I thought, the eyespots on a butterfly’s wing flickering for a lifesaving second. Grasshoppers that change their color with the seasons to match the fading leaves. The grand gentlemen and ladies of the court were still looking at the portrait, but I knew there was something far more important to watch. The face of the Empress of Russia taking her first measure of this princess child who, if she willed it, would become her nephew’s bride. The face I had learned to read.
 
Reviews
Review Quotes
Praise for The Winter Palace "The book roars along, with all the backstabbing, forced marriages, shifting alliances and drama that make up this royal household. . . . A very entertaining book." -The Gazette(Montreal) "Stachniak has uncovered a treasure trove of rich material. . . . [Her] vision casts light over recent Russian history too, which is exactly what a piece of historical fiction should do." -The Globe and Mail "A sweeping novel." -O, The Oprah Magazine Magazine
" The Winter Palaceis indeed as gorgeous, opulent and lush as its titular location." - National Post "At the same time baroque and intimate, worldly and domestic, wildly strange and soulfully familiar, The Winter Palaceoffers a flickering glimpse of history through the gauze of a deft entertainment." - The Washington Post "[B]rilliant, bold . . . This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don't have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph." - Booklist "Eva Stachniak''s new novel should establish her as a pre-eminent writer of historical fiction. ... The Winter Palaceis seamless in its depiction of a place and time…. what Stachniak has given us is not history, but a dramatic recreation of what the witnesses to history actually manage to see and do." -Quill & Quire "Stachniak captures dramatic moments with flair, and the Russian Imperial court-with its fox-fur blankets, gilded furniture, and carafes of cherry vodka-appears in glorious splendor. This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don't have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph." - Booklist "Stachniak sets the scene extravagantly with details of sumptuous meals, elaborate wardrobes, and cunning palace politics. Longtime readers of English and French historical novels will delight in this relatively unsung dynasty and the familiar hallmarks of courtly intrigue." - Library Journal "Rich in detail, filled with vivid characters, recounted in seamless prose, The Winter Palacefollows the suspenseful journey of two forceful young women--Varvara, the 'tongue' whose task it is to spy on a penniless young princess from Germany brought to court to provide a heir for Mother Russia, and Catherine, groomed to become the future wife of the next Czar, the socially clumsy and dull Peter. The Winter Palaceis as luminescent as a Fabergé egg, as salty as caviar and as heady as vodka. Eva Stachniak has re-created an absolutely believable world of the Russian Imperial Court and the character of the young Catherine, the ambitious, ill-used, manipulated girl who became one of the greatest female monarchs the world has ever seen. This book will grab you by the throat on page one and not let you go until the last page. The characters will stay with you forever." -Roberta Rich, author of The Midwife of Venice " The Winter Palaceevokes the dark, glittering world of the Russian court. I loved my reader's place behind the eyes of the servant girl Varvara, engaged in her perilous role as confidante to the young Catherine the Great. Rich with fascinating details of St. Petersburg, Eva Stachniak's novel is an illuminating lesson and a delicious read." -Beth Powning, author of The Sea Captain's Wife "Spies and lovers lurk everywhere, while brilliantly bedecked royals indulge their every whim." - Publishers Weekly "This novel is literary sable to sink into on a cold winter''s night: luxurious and elegant, gilded with details, yet piercing in its depiction of the flamboyant decadence of the Russian court, and the tumultuous rise to power of Catherine the Great, as seen through the eyes of a scheming lady in waiting and spy. Once you enter the glorious, dangerous world of The Winter Palace, you will never want to leave." -C.W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici "A wonderful tale of the Imperial Russia court in all its glittering glory. Eva Stachniak vividly brings to life the early years of the meek young bride who would become the terrifying fascinating Catherine the Great." -Kate Williams, author of England's Mistressand Becoming Queen "Fantastic, bold, colourful, assured and wonderful writing - and what a story! An outstanding book, magical, beautiful with writing as crisp and fine and breathtaking as a Russian winter." -Manda Scott, author of the Boudicatrilogy "Covering the twenty years that turned Catherine the Great from a young bride on approval to the legendary Empress of Russia, Eva Stachniak's novel gives a magical insight into the hopes and fears that haunted the corridors of the St. Petersburg palace. It brings alive the very tastes and textures of the mid-eighteenth century." -Sarah Gristwood, author of The Girl in the Mirror "Awash in period details and as gripping and suspenseful as any thriller, The Winter Palace gives us a unique look at the making of a queen. Eva Stachniak allows us to peep through keyholes and overhear whispers as we navigate the intrigues of Imperialist Russia along with Sophie, the princess who became Catherine the Great. I loved this book, and this glimpse into a world of silk and shadows, grandeur and gossip." -Melanie Benjamin, author of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb "Eva Stachniak has given readers a thrilling glimpse into the scandals and secrets at the heart of the Russian Imperial court. With deft prose and exquisite detail, Stachniak has resurrected one of the most compelling ages in history. Turn off the phones and lock the doors-you will not put it down." -Deanna Raybourn, New York Timesbestselling author of Silent in the Grave "Utterly enchanting from the first page. Eva Stachniak brings to life the sensual feast that was Catherine the Great''s Russia in this beautifully written, tightly plotted novel." -Tasha Alexander, author of And Only to Deceive "This is a majestic and splendidly written tale of pride, passion, intrigue and deceit that is brought alive from the first page to the last." -Rosalind Laker, author of The Golden Tulip " The Winter Palaceis an intensely written, intensely felt saga of the early years that shaped the 18th century''s famous czarina, Catherine the Great. Her survival in the treachery of the Russian court was an amazing feat, and Eva Stachniak captures the fluidity and steeliness that propelled Catherine from a lowly German duchess to one of the towering figures of the century." -Karleen Koen, New York Timesbestselling author of Through a Glass Darkly
"Eva Stachniak''s new novel should establish her as a pre-eminent writer of historical fiction. ... The Winter Palaceis seamless in its depiction of a place and time…. what Stachniak has given us is not history, but a dramatic recreation of what the witnesses to history actually manage to see and do." -Quill & Quire "Stachniak captures dramatic moments with flair, and the Russian Imperial court-with its fox-fur blankets, gilded furniture, and carafes of cherry vodka-appears in glorious splendor. This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don't have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph." - Booklist "Stachniak sets the scene extravagantly with details of sumptuous meals, elaborate wardrobes, and cunning palace politics. Longtime readers of English and French historical novels will delight in this relatively unsung dynasty and the familiar hallmarks of courtly intrigue." - Library Journal "Rich in detail, filled with vivid characters, recounted in seamless prose, The Winter Palacefollows the suspenseful journey of two forceful young women--Varvara, the 'tongue' whose task it is to spy on a penniless young princess from Germany brought to court to provide a heir for Mother Russia, and Catherine, groomed to become the future wife of the next Czar, the socially clumsy and dull Peter. The Winter Palaceis as luminescent as a Fabergé egg, as salty as caviar and as heady as vodka. Eva Stachniak has re-created an absolutely believable world of the Russian Imperial Court and the character of the young Catherine, the ambitious, ill-used, manipulated girl who became one of the greatest female monarchs the world has ever seen. This book will grab you by the throat on page one and not let you go until the last page. The characters will stay with you forever." -Roberta Rich, author of The Midwife of Venice " The Winter Palaceevokes the dark, glittering world of the Russian court. I loved my reader's place behind the eyes of the servant girl Varvara, engaged in her perilous role as confidante to the young Catherine the Great. Rich with fascinating details of St. Petersburg, Eva Stachniak's novel is an illuminating lesson and a delicious read." -Beth Powning, author of The Sea Captain's Wife "Spies and lovers lurk everywhere, while brilliantly bedecked royals indulge their every whim." - Publishers Weekly "This novel is literary sable to sink into on a cold winter''s night: luxurious and elegant, gilded with details, yet piercing in its depiction of the flamboyant decadence of the Russian court, and the tumultuous rise to power of Catherine the Great, as seen through the eyes of a scheming lady in waiting and spy. Once you enter the glorious, dangerous world of The Winter Palace, you will never want to leave." -C.W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de Medici "A wonderful tale of the Imperial Russia court in all its glittering glory. Eva Stachniak vividly brings to life the early years of the meek young bride who would become the terrifying fascinating Catherine the Great." -Kate Williams, author of England's Mistressand Becoming Queen "Fantastic, bold, colourful, assured and wonderful writing - and what a story! An outstanding book, magical, beautiful with writing as crisp and fine and breathtaking as a Russian winter." -Manda Scott, author of the Boudicatrilogy "Covering the twenty years that turned Catherine the Great from a young bride on approval to the legendary Empress of Russia, Eva Stachniak's novel gives a magical insight into the hopes and fears that haunted the corridors of the St. Petersburg palace. It brings alive the very tastes and textures of the mid-eighteenth century." -Sarah Gristwood, author of The Girl in the Mirror "Awash in period details and as gripping and suspenseful as any thriller, The Winter Palace gives us a unique look at the making of a queen. Eva Stachniak allows us to peep through keyholes and overhear whispers as we navigate the intrigues of Imperialist Russia along with Sophie, the princess who became Catherine the Great. I loved this book, and this glimpse into a world of silk and shadows, grandeur and gossip." -Melanie Benjamin, author of The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb "Eva Stachniak has given readers a thrilling glimpse into the scandals and secrets at the heart of the Russian Imperial court. With deft prose and exquisite detail, Stachniak has resurrected one of the most compelling ages in history. Turn off the phones and lock the doors-you will not put it down." -Deanna Raybourn, New York Timesbestselling author of Silent in the Grave "Utterly enchanting from the first page. Eva Stachniak brings to life the sensual feast that was Catherine the Great''s Russia in this beautifully written, tightly plotted novel." -Tasha Alexander, author of And Only to Deceive "This is a majestic and splendidly written tale of pride, passion, intrigue and deceit that is brought alive from the first page to the last." -Rosalind Laker, author of The Golden Tulip " The Winter Palaceis an intensely written, intensely felt saga of the early years that shaped the 18th century''s famous czarina, Catherine the Great. Her survival in the treachery of the Russian court was an amazing feat, and Eva Stachniak captures the fluidity and steeliness that propelled Catherine from a lowly German duchess to one of the towering figures of the century." -Karleen Koen, New York Timesbestselling author of Through a Glass Darkly
Praise for The Winter Palace "The book roars along, with all the backstabbing, forced marriages, shifting alliances and drama that make up this royal household. . . . A very entertaining book." -The Gazette (Montreal) "Stachniak has uncovered a treasure trove of rich material. . . . [Her] vision casts light over recent Russian history too, which is exactly what a piece of historical fiction should do." -The Globe and Mail "A sweeping novel." -O, The Oprah Magazine Magazine
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Summaries
Main Description
Two young women, caught in the landscape of shifting allegiances, navigate the treacherous waters of palace intrigue. Barbara is a servant who will become one of Russia's most cunning royal spies. Sophia is a pretty, naive German duchess who will become Catherine the Great. For readers of superb historical fiction, Eva Stachniak captures in glorious detail the opulence of royalty and the perilous loyalties of the Russian court.
Main Description
Behind every great ruler lies a betrayal. Eva Stachniak's novel sweeps readers into the passionate, intimate, and treacherous world of Catherine the Great, revealing Russia's greatest matriarch from her earliest days in court, where the most valuable currency was the secrets of nobility and the most dangerous weapon to wield was ambition. Two young women, caught in the landscape of shifting allegiances, navigate the treacherous waters of palace intrigue. Barbara is a servant who will become one of Russia's most cunning royal spies. Sophia is a pretty, naive German duchess who will become Catherine the Great. For readers of superb historical fiction, Eva Stachniak captures in glorious detail the opulence of royalty and the perilous loyalties of the Russian court.

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