This is the first book I've read about Catherine the Great – fiction or non. I watched a documentary about her some years back, but I can barely remember it. So, my knowledge of the woman is dismal.
The book is called The Winter Palace: A Novel of Catherine the Great, but really, it's not. First off, Catherine, or Sophie as she's first called, doesn't appear until a ways into the book. And she doesn't become empress until, oh, 90% in. The book is really about a young Polish woman named Barbara, who is trained in spying for the Empress Elizabeth, and eventually becomes Catherine's friend.
Most of the book takes place during the reign of Empress Elizabeth, and I ended up learning more about her than Catherine. Not complaining, but the title of the book is a misrepresentation, I think.
I liked that the narrator of the book was a Polish woman. I haven't come across a lot of those in historical fiction. We never really got to know her, though. Even though we spend the entire book with her, we never got a look at her real emotions.
Nevertheless, the book was a great look into a time and people that so rarely get represented in this genre. Great Britain? France? Done and done. Russia was a refreshing change. And the drama and intrigue surrounding the imperial family was accurately represented. Cheese and rice, you never knew if you were being overheard or watched. Oh, and that secret hiding place you have for your letters and trinkets? Yeah, not so secret. I would have felt suffocated.
I was satisfied with the ending. And while some parts of the book seemed to drag on and on, I did like it. Recommended to historical fiction fans who want a change.