Just another GR refugee. Other than that, I had a stroke in 2004, and read almost anything I can get my hands on, though I have a particular weakness for history, mystery, and historical fiction.
This is a historical novel, narrated by Catherine the Great, who is remembering her life while having the stroke that would kill her, in 1796.
She remembers coming to Russia at 14, to be inspected by the Empress Elizabeth as a prospective wife for her heir presumptive, Peter, a mentally unstable boy obsessed with the Prussians. She remembers Elizabeth's death, her increasingly unstable and dangerous husband, the new czar, and the coup that she led to depose him, after only six months of his rule.
She remembers her lovers. Many lovers. We are told about court intrigue (though we hear more about it, than see it, after she becomes empress). Her son, Paul, marries and has children. Those children grow up, and marry (or get jilted). A beloved dog disappears. She has a stroke and dies. Paul is as unstable as his father, and it is clear that Catherine was right to prefer his eldest son, Alexander, as her successor.
I liked the description of Catherine having a stroke; I thought this was handled well. (Speaking as a stroke survivor, she got many things right, including the confusion about what is happening.) I did not quite like Catherine as a character, but found her fascinating, which is probably the right way to handle a ruler who was highly capable but capable of ruthlessness and not generally known for her warm and cuddly characteristics. I liked the quality of the writing, which was good and flowed well.
I wish we had had a bit less of a parade of "and then I had this lover, and then he wanted to be a king somewhere else, and then I had this lover and he died, and then I had this lover..." and more about the politics and the process of ruling a huge nation, which she had to have spent some time on. As she ruled for 34 years, and changed Russia enormously. I wish we had seen more of the intrigue, rather than just heard that there was a lot of it.
I thought it curious that we spent a lot of time in the years of Elizabeth's rule, and a lot of time in the last 5 years of her life, but not so much on the prime of that life. I wish that there were a few more dates sprinkled in, so that it was clearer exactly when events were happening, which was not always as clear as one would like.
It turns out this is the sequel to a book I haven't read, The Winter Palace. It reads just fine alone, I think, though it might have additional attractions to those who have read the first volume.
There was much to like, but just enough to have wanted more, from an author who is clearly capable of it. I would happily read another of her novels.
Many thanks to NetGalley, for the ARC.