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?
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
A wonderful novel, riven with intrigue and startling details, the sort to savour on a long winter evening
The kind of big busty read that sends you back to the history books
Extraordinarily absorbing... will have you on the edge of your seat
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