18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Slow Moving but Interesting,
This review is from: The Winter Palace (Paperback)When her mother expires of cholera and her father, a Polish bookbinder in the Russian court, dies soon after of a broken heart, Barbara Nikolayevna or Varvara in Russian is left an orphan at the mercy of Empress Elizabeth. At first, the woman in charge of female servants treats Varvara miserably, but soon she takes the eye of Alexi Bestuzhev-Rhumin, the Chancellor of Russia.
For a few sexual favours, he trains her in the art of spying and helps her to gain the confidence of the empress. Eventually she is given a prominent position in the palace, high enough to begin a friendship with the young Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst who becomes Catherine the Great. It is through the eyes and point-of-view of Varvara that the book is written.
I really wanted to like this book a lot. The blood of Mother Russia runs through the veins of my own husband, and I am always fascinated by the history of that country, sad as it is. But I found the plot moved forward very slowly, and it took me much longer than usual to read the novel. It's definitely not a page-turner; rather a book to take in small doses.
That's not to say it isn't well done. The writing is literary and beautiful in style--often quite poetic--but it is a dirge rather than a lyrical piece. It is often depressing. As I read, I could almost hear the sound of The Volga Boatmen in the background. It is that natural Russian melancholy that prevails throughout the story.
Still, I would recommend it so any lover of historical fiction. There is lots to learn from the book. Although rather improbable, it is very informative at times.