This is a very engrossing and exciting historical fiction read set in the 1700's in Russia. As `The Winter Palace' by Eva Straniak opens in 1743, we meet the young girl, Varvara or Barbara and her father, a Polish bookbinder. And we learn the story of how she became a "tongue" or spy for the Chancellor of Russia and later for Empress `Elizabeth the Merciful'. Since Varvara had lost her mother earlier and her father was worried about what would become of if he died, her father slowly worked his way into the graces of Empress Elizabeth. He requested that she take care of his child if he died and the Empress agreed.
The Russian palaces were built for intrigue and spying with secret chambers, hidden hallways and tiny crannies to squeeze into. Varvara is determined not to be stuck sewing, a skill that she has no talent for, so she works hers way into something more important and is recruited by the Chancellor who puts her through a spy training school with an emphasis on noticing detail and not trusting anyone, even the Chancellor. She is later assigned to be a spy on the German Princess Sophie who would later become Catherine the Great. A great friendship forms between Varvara and Sophie, but can Varvara trust this girl of fourteen.
From the page one, I did not want to lay this book down. Eva Stachniak writes with clarity and keeps you very interested until the last page. You get a real feel for the amount, methods and preciseness of the spying in the palaces. I really cared about Varvara and admired her independence and determination. The book ends before the historic story has closed. The author is currently working on a book about Catherine the Great that will come out soon. I definitely want to read that one and I hope that there will be more about Varvara in it.
I learned about food in the courts and elsewhere, the dress of the commoners and the royalty, the constant gossip, extravagance of clothing and jewels that Empress Elizabeth lived with. Also what the Grand Duke was like, physically, his manner and his likes and dislikes. He was to be Catherine the great's betrothed and the other men in Catherine's life.
All historical fiction fans need to read this book. It will take you inside the life of the palaces in the 1740 to 1764 in Russia. You can smell the treachery, the heartache of love, disappointments, betrayals and opulence of court living.
I received this book from Amazon's Vine program but that in no way influenced my review of this book.