When Vavara, a young Polish orphan, arrives at the glittering, dangerous court of the Empress Elizabeth in St Petersburg, she is schooled in skills ranging from lock-picking to love-making, learning above all else to stay silent - and listen.
Then Sophie, a vulnerable young princess, arrives from Prussia as a prospective bride for the Empress's heir. Set to spy on her, Vavara soon becomes her friend and confidante, and helps her navigate the illicit liaisons and the treacherous shifting allegiances of the court. But Sophie's destiny is to become the notorious Catherine the Great. Are her ambitions more lofty and far-reaching than anyone suspected, and will she stop at nothing to achieve absolute power?
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Riveting... Stachniak has uncovered a treasure trove of rich material... The real core of Stachniak's tale is that [Catherine and Elizabeth] are women... Casts light over recent Russian history too, which is exactly what historical fiction should do - Globe and Mail
A wonderful novel, riven with intrigue and startling details, the sort to savour on a long winter evening - Daily Telegraph
The kind of big busty read that sends you back to the history books - The Sunday Times
Extraordinarily absorbing... will have you on the edge of your seat - Daily Mail
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 -
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 -
Luxuriant... baroque and intimate, worldly and domestic, wildly strange and soulfully familiar - Washington Post
A whirlwind saga of intrigue, shifting allegiances and illicit liaisons, this engrossing story really captures the imagination - Choice Magazine
A wonderfully majestic and evocative tale of 18th century Russia at a key moment in history - Candis Magazine
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 -
A riveting reconstruction of a crucial era in Russian history… shows iconic figures of the period as real people - BBC History Magazine
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 -
An intimate portrait of 18th century girl-power - Independent
Eva Stachniak was born in Wroclaw, Poland, and now lives in Canada, where she has been a radio broadcaster and college English and humanities lecturer. Her debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the Amazon.com/Books in Canada First Novel Award, and her second novel, Dancing with Kings, has been translated into seven languages. She lives in Toronto,where she is working on her second novel about Catherine the Great, also to be published by Doubleday