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Tasha Alexander Reviews The Winter Palace Tasha Alexander is the author of the bestselling Lady Emily series. She
attended the University of Notre Dame, where she signed on as an English major in order to have a legitimate excuse for
spending all her time reading. A confirmed Anglophile from birth, she and her husband, novelist Andrew Grant, divide
their time between Chicago and the UK.
Like most lovers of historical fiction, I’m on constant lookout for a book into which I can completely disappear,
one that will engulf all my senses and, in effect, turn my couch into a time machine. I want the history to be accurate,
the characters to be compelling, and the story to make me reconsider preconceived notions about a period outside the
area of my expertise. Eva Stachniak’s The Winter Palace does all that in spectacular fashion.
The scandal, luxury, and political unrest rife in eighteenth century Russia provide a rich backdrop, and Stachniak
takes full advantage of all of it without sticking to the ordinary and expected. Instead of presenting Catherine the
Great at the peak of her powers, she gives us the infamous empress during her youth, when she was Sophie, a young German
duchess betrothed to the future Tsar Peter III. A not entirely welcome foreigner, Sophie is thrust into a court full of
corruption and deceit, where nothing is more important than have a source of reliable information. It is by taking
advantage of this circumstance that Stachniak gives her novel extra depth. Catherine is not the protagonist of The
Winter Palace. Stachniak tells her story through Barbara, a young woman whose heartbreaking life has led her to
employment as an ill-treated seamstress at the palace.
Until someone realizes she’d make a better spy.
Stachniak’s well-chosen protagonist enables her to give the novel a full and satisfying depiction of the Imperial
Court, seen not only through the eyes of the privileged nobility, but through a woman who is keenly aware of what goes
on above and below stairs. She brings to life the plight of the less fortunate and the delicate balance of truth and
lies necessary to survive in the murky labyrinth of Barbara’s world. Stachniak fills her novel with intricate
details--the opulence is all but tangible--but never does so at the expense of her story, which moves along at a clipped
pace. Her prose, lush and evocative, is as elegant as the fabled Amber Room at Catherine’s summer palace.
The Winter Palace should secure Stachniak a place among the best historical novelists. It is one of those rare books
that grabs the reader and won’t let go, one that begs to be read again, one that lingers pleasantly in the mind long
after the finishing the last page. And for me, it proved itself in a more simple way: the minute I closed the book, I
wanted to get my hands on everything else Stachniak has written.