This is an ARC I received from a friend. Not as good as Catherine The Great but it's a different style. Catherine had a great deal more history in the text. In addition, the story is about a spy. Catherine is a less important character in the book. Stachniak does give one another look at how Catherine might have played the political games to protect herself during her marriage.
The teller of the story is Barbara or Basienka, daughter of a book binder. When her mother dies of cholera, her father is left to care for her but his business diminishes because they like many who are not born in the country are blamed for the cholera outbreak. Originally from Poland, he takes her to the palace to introduce her to the Empress for whom he has mended a prayer book. He asks her to care for his daughter if he should die. The promise made, he returns home where he later dies, leaving his daughter alone. At the palace the daughter, now an orphan, is trained to be a spy for Empress Elizabeth.
As an orphan she has no family so when young Catherine comes to the palace, she befriends the young princess and protects her when she can. However, since this is not part of her mission and it is decided that she is too close to the German princess. Varenka as the princess calls her is soon married to a soldier, leaving her beloved friend, Catherine, to the political wiles of court life. For Barbara, life is pale until her daughter, Darya, is born. As her daughter toddles about, she is summoned to return to the royal household. Catherine has lost two babies and is carrying another under the watchful eye of the empress who controls her every move.
The story is essentially Barbara's but how Catherine's life affects Barbara's own is fascinating. I liked Stachniak's fictional story. It was fun and gives a different picture of the person Catherine might have been. The historical background compares to that used in Catherine the Great but not in nearly as much detail.
This one just couldn't hold my interest. It is rare for me to give up on a book, but I did give up on this one.
I really liked the beginning of this book. The details where great, and the story interesting. Then it just kind of drifted off, there where too many characters to keep track of. There was also a 'betrayel' that I thought was obvious and not that big of a betrayel that ended the story. It felt like the ending was rushed, so I can't recommend the book.