“Empress of the Night” by Eva Stachniak (Bantam Books, 375 pages, in stores)
“Empress of the Night” is Eva Stachniak’s follow-up to “The Winter Palace,” which reimagined the rise of Catherine the Great through the eyes of her servant, Varvara. In “Empress of the Night,” Catherine tells her own story in flashbacks.
As the story opens, Catherine, the Romanov monarch, is on her death bed. She reflects on her life and the choices she made. She was Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst when she came to Russia with her mother with an invitation from Empress Elizabeth. She was to marry Peter, the crown prince of Russia and her second cousin.
Peter had no interest in becoming a husband. He never consummated the marriage, instead spending his time in bed with her playing with toy soldiers.
Her mother became an embarrassment because of her sexual escapades, so she was banished from court and sent home.
Catherine came to power following a coup and the assassination of her husband at the end of the Seven Years’ War. She was the most renowned and longest-ruling female leader of Russia, reigning from 1762 until her death in 1796. Her reign was called Russia’s golden age. Russia grew larger and stronger under her rule, and became recognized as one of Europe’s great powers.
Grigory Potemkin was the love of her life, but she had a succession of favorites, all nobles who advised her in ruling the empire. Enemies called her “The Great Whore of Russia.” In addition to her strong sexual appetite, she was a strong ruler who amassed a great fortune, controlled the court and ensured the Romanov lineage in the ruling of Russia.
Stachniak was born in Warsaw, Poland. She moved to Canada in 1981 and worked for Radio Canada International and Sheridan College, where she taught English and Humanities. Her debut novel, Necessary Lies, won the Amazon.ca/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 2000. The Winter Palace was included in The Washington Post’s 2011 list of most notable fiction.
— Betty Lytle, for The Oklahoman