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Publisher's Summary

From award-winning author Eva Stachniak comes this passionate novel that illuminates, as only fiction can, the early life of one of history’s boldest women.

The Winter Palace 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 other, loftier, more dangerous ambitions, and she proves to be more guileful than she first appears.

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.

With dazzling details and intense drama, Eva Stachniak depicts Varvara’s secret alliance with Catherine as the princess grows into a legend - through an enforced marriage, illicit seductions, and, at last, the shocking coup to assume the throne of all of Russia.

Impeccably researched and magnificently written, The Winter Palace is an irresistible peek through the keyhole of one of history’s grandest tales.

©2012 Eva Stachniak (P)2012 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

“Stachniak’s brilliant, bold historical novel of eighteenth-century Russia is a masterful account of one woman’s progress toward absolute monarchical rule.... This superb biographical epic proves the Tudors don’t have a monopoly on marital scandal, royal intrigue, or feminine triumph.” (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Cookie
  • Anacortes, WA, United States
  • 01-13-12

Not a bodice ripper!

Just a good story. This really is a great historical novel, very well written and researched. I feel like I have spent a few days in St. Petersburg, in the cold even in August. The intrigues at court will make you squirm, but there is no content that can not be listened to in mixed company. I wish the book had a little more detail about how the coup was actually carried out (maybe the editors took too much out)I would have like more, but all in all a satisfying listen. Beata Pozniak took me by surprise, and it took me a few minutes to get it. But her narration was so perfect that I believed every minute she was the main character. She brought life to the wonderful prose and will make you feel like you were there. Russian and Polish in slightly broken English, her voice is haunting and unforgettable. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

15 of 15 people found this review helpful

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  • Jeffrey
  • SHERMAN OAKS, CA, United States
  • 01-14-12

Great story-Authentic narration-Fantastic journey!

I love historical novels and Eva Stachniak is like the Joseph Conrad of this genre. Her powerful sense of storytelling and vivid use of language are simply mesmerizing. Moreover, Beata Pozniak’s narration perfectly captures the exotic beauty of the special time and place of the Russian court. With so many colorful and complex characters in Winter Palace, the narrator provides a beautiful range of foreign accents (Polish, German, French & British) and unique intonation to each one to make this a truly authentic and unforgettable journey.

The clever invention of this novel is that it is told from the point of view of Barbara, a young girl, who arrives at the royal court as a lowly seamstress after the death of her parents. Her guile and ambition soon take her on a path to becoming a master spy with secrets that change the course of history. Since Barbara was born in Poland, Pozniak's portrayal of her with a slight Polish accent gives the character a wonderful resonance. Her hypnotic timbre was so engaging it pulled me into the imperial bedrooms of the Russian Winter Palace and dazzled me with the political intrigues of the Royal Court. I soon felt that I was, like Barbara, becoming a super spy. Thanks to the atmospheric narration I could not stop listening. With Stachniak’s innate sense of storytelling and Pozniak’s remarkable gift for character portrayal, I felt transported through the bitter Russian winter to the magnificent palace of Catherine. What a terrific ride!

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Did I listen to a Different Book?

After reading so many great reviews I was excited to listen to The Winter Palace. Historical fiction is hands down my favorite genre. I love seeing an event in history woven into a story. When well written, I almost feel I was there. I also very much enjoy stories of Russia and have been very happy listening to Russian Winter and The Romanov Bride.

The Winter Palace fails on so many levels. First, as others have said, the narration was terrible. It's not only the accent, it's more the odd way the narrator emphasizes her sentences. With a good enough story it could be overlooked but this story was boring, boring, boring. I almost didn't finish it.

Next was the poor character development. Catherine the Great is seen as a simpering, crying, and maipulated fool, and her husband is a man who never grew up and a total idiot. The Empress Elizabeth is cruel and horrible. Who could care what happened to any of them? Historically accurate or not (no idea), I could not have cared less about any of them. Even the protagonist was a shallow, weak woman who only took control at the end of the story and by then I was just happy for it to end. Was there nothing redeeming about any of these people? We never see any inkling of why Catherine was named The Great.

Another issue was how the author continually used foreshadowing that never went anywhere. I found it annoying to hear the narrator say "I later wished I had noticed the bitterness in his voice." So I expected that to be explained "later," but it never was. Either the editing was terrible or the author just doesn't weave a story well.

And I was so often distracted with the dullness of the story I found myself lost with who was who and had to rewind to listen to pieces to figure out what was happening, which generally wasn't very much. The author also has a tendency to refer to people by two names and it gets confusing to whom she is referring. In the first half of the book the Chancellor of Russia is important character, and then in the second half he loses his position and is refered to by name. Somewhere along the line I missed his name and so I was continually trying to figure out if this guy was the former Chancellor or some other male character. I don't think the reader/listener should have to work that hard.

Finally, this book just failed to grab my attention or keep it for any length of time. Just a disappointment overall. Hopefully my next credit will be a much better listen!

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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Could Not Finish

This started out so slow moving or should I say the narration was so slow moving that I looked in the paperbook and after 2 hours of listening I was only on page 47. I didn't like this narrator the cadence of her voice and the slow reading was too much.

I'll read this book in paper form. If you are looking for a good audio about Catherine The Great try the book by, Robert Massie narrated by, Mark Deakins that was a good one that kept my attention throughout!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Sue
  • United States
  • 01-16-12

boring

What disappointed you about The Winter Palace?

The Readers monotone and slow reading makes it difficult to enjoy. I would have enjoy this book more reading on my own.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Jenny
  • boise, ID, United States
  • 01-14-12

Winter Palace is unlistenable

Would you try another book from Eva Stachniak and/or Beata Pozniak?

The reader of this book is so awful we were not able to continue listening strong accent with awkward pronunciation of words with strange choices in delivery Needless to say we couldn't continue to listen so we have no comment on the merits of the book at all

Would you ever listen to anything by Eva Stachniak again?

never

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Sal
  • Weehawken, NJ, United States
  • 01-17-12

Great Storytelling!

Have read a few of the great Russian novels, like Dostoyevsky, and really enjoyed them, so I thought this sounded like a good story. For me the voices and the sound of the language transport me right there. Through the narrator I feel that I am really hearing the many different voices of this story, the Polish voice of Barbara, describing the naivete of Catherine when she first arrives, or the weakened voice of her mother as she nears death, or the imperial Russian voice of the czar, or a German-accented professor. What an amazing skill to deliver all these voices / personalities in such a credible way, and to render them through Barbara. To me that is really great storytelling. If you like stories of intrigue, romance, politics, insecurity, and deception among the aristocrats at court (think Dangerous Liaisons, but in Russia instead of France), mixed as a historical fiction, you'd probably enjoy this.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Well done.

Very well done. I would suggest watching a good documentary or movie of her life first to fill in the cracks.

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  • Kathleen
  • San Diego, CA, United States
  • 06-01-17

Frustrating Narrator

This is a fascinating history of the pre-Catherine the Great era which focuses on the relationship between Catherine and a palace girl acting as Catherine attendant and personal friend. It's really worth reading, although at times, slows without the propulsion of significant action. As an audio book it is miserable to listen to since the narrator's robotish melody is typical of people who may have an excellent command of English pronunciation but have no ear for the authentic melodies of real life. The rhythms and subtle sub-language inflections that cause the listener to truly enter into the narrative frame are severely lacking. I wanted to listen to the sequel book, 'Empress of the Night', but I can't bear to listen to this narrator again. Unfortunate.

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Narrator reads like a school boy reciting

The narration is terrible. It's not so much the lady's accent as it is her phrasing and tone. She sounds like a foreign student sounding out a passage in English, her reading is slow and ponderous and lacking in the proper inflection - as if halfway through a sentence she has no idea where to go. I will be checking this book out from my local library to give it a second chance

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