Left a bit cold
March 12, 2012 by Jessi
The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak – page count:440
The story centers around the life of Barbara, in Russian Varenka, a bookbinder’s daughter who turns spy for Empress Elizabeth of Russia, predecessor to Catherine the Great.
Perhaps one of my favorite things about reading historical fiction is how examples can transport you to another time and place long gone. With rich descriptions you can almost smell what’s cooking, feel the wind on your face and see the luxurious gildings about you. Eva Stachniak does a superb job with descriptions in The Winter Palace.
What Stachniak does not do so well, at least in my opinion, is move the plot along. Who knew a book about the young Catherine the Great could lag so much! Yes, there were exciting parts, and times when I didn’t want to put the book down. However, those interesting parts were gashed by long laborious tediums of BORING! Honestly, the entire middle 100 pages or so could probably be cut and covered in one conversation between the two protagonists.
“What have you been up to?” asks Protagonist 1.
“This and that,” replies Pro 2.
“Oh, how lovely. I’ve done this.”
Seriously, it’s shocking how boring a book about spies in an imperial court of the eighteenth century can be. One has to work to make that boring.
In all fairness, I was interested in the book. I did finish it after all. (I am not one to finish a book just because I began it. Life is too short, and there are too many good books to waste my time on a bad one.) So Winter Palace wasn’t all bad. My interst in what ultimately happened to Barbara won out over my boredom. This of course means that the title of this post isn’t the most accurate one I’ve come up with, but I did think it was clever. (I have this problem that I cannot pass up a good pun opportunity. It’s a hereditary thing.)
*SPOILER ALERT* Near the end of the book, it is painfully obvious Stachniak wants to milk this storyline for another whole book, maybe even a series. I can’t help but wonder if the frequent dolldrums were brought on by a case of writer’s “I could make more money by selling two books instead of just one.” Let’s just say, that while generally liked this book, and might recommend it to others who don’t need super-fast-all-the-way books, I will not be reading the sequal. *Spoiler Over.*
Now, I am a fan of both action books and movies, and some might see this as me merely not appreciating the time it takes to cultivate a story. However, I would parry by pointing out that I love Jane Austen books, JRR Tolkien and the occational Chalres Dickens, all of which have been accused of being too languid.