Published: March 25, 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Catherine the Great muses on her life, her relentless battle between love and power, the country she brought into the glorious new century, and the bodies left in her wake. By the end of her life, she had accomplished more than virtually any other woman in history. She built and grew the Romanov empire, amassed a vast fortune of art and land, and controlled an unruly and conniving court. Now, in a voice both indelible and intimate, she reflects on the decisions that gained her the world and brought her enemies to their knees. And before her last breath, shadowed by the bloody French Revolution, she sets up the end game for her last political maneuver, ensuring her successor and the greater glory of Russia.
Catherine the Great is one of the biggies in historical fiction lore. However, I had yet to actually read any historical novels about her before this. I was familiar with her reign from my classes in college, but I had yet to really get the more emotional portrait of the Empress that historical fiction can supply.
As far as creating a nuanced portrait of Catherine the Great, I feel that Stachniak succeeded with Empress of the Night. It is told as Catherine's life "flashes before her eyes" between a massive stroke and the moment of her death. Everything is told from Catherine's point of view and the reader gets to see some of her thought processes during her reign.
That being said, I did feel that this book was muddled. While Stachniak's prose is lovely, it ran hot and cold for me. There were portions that I found fascination and parts I just had to slog through. Overall, I felt the book just rambled a bit--this may due to the lack of any actual chapters.
I do also wish that Stachniak had a clearer focus for this book. While she doesn't cover too much of the nuts and bolts of governing, Stachniak tends to jump between Catherine's never-ending line of lovers, her family and the intrigue of the court. I believe that this book would have been more successful if Stachniak had chosen one of those topics as her focus.
While this was not a successful book for me, I do appreciate Stachniak's style and I would be interested in reading some of her other books.
I was given an electronic copy of the book to read in return for an honest review. I received no other compensation for this post.