I absolutely adore reading - my love for books has had a huge impact on my life! I'm going to grad school to be a children's/YA librarian.
Catherine the Great is the most famous female tsar in Russia's history - and one of the most famous female rulers in all of world history, as well. Her fame is well-deserved: Catherine expanded the Romanov empire and accomplished far more than anyone expected a "mere woman" to, not to mention that her life in general was fascinating. In Empress of the Night, Catherine is on her deathbed remembering all of the joys and pains of her long life.
Well, after almost a month, I have finally, finally finished this book. Part of the reason that it took me so long is because I have been super busy with school and I've been reading other books as well. But I think part of the reason is also that the copy I read was an advance review copy and I think it could still use some editing to trim down unnecessary parts. Overall, however, this book is off to a great start and I can't wait to get to the store to buy my copy of the finished product once it's officially released in March!
The word choice in this book is exquisite. I think that's Stachniak's greatest strength. I haven't read her other works, but after reading this book, I'm definitely going to be looking for more because Stachniak is a master of language. I find this even more impressive since she's not a native speaker of English. Her word choice is strong and and precise; at times lyrical, at others, raw. A true pleasure to read.
You know how when people die, their lives supposedly flash before their eyes? Well, that's the basic premise of this story. Catherine the Great has suffered a debilitating stroke and so what we're reading is the progression of her life as she remembers it. As a result, the vast majority of this book is told in flashbacks. Scenes are brief, and sometimes, especially in the first half of the book, it's very difficult to tell exactly how much time has passed.
This book comes across as very well-researched. It piqued my interest because this semester, I'm taking a course on Russian history. Although the course is supposed to cover Russian history from 1815 to the present (which, if you're familiar with Russian history, is a HORRIBLY awkward time to start!), we did briefly discuss Catherine the Great, as my professor felt that it was important that we understand earlier Russian history, since it's vital to understanding later Russian history. As a result, prior to reading this book, I did have limited knowledge about Catherine the Great. Even so, I was hopelessly confused at times and I must confess, I actually had to look on Wikipedia a few times to figure out what exactly was going on as I was reading. If you're not familiar with Russian history, you'll probably find the book - at least in its present form - to be confusing.
To add to this, there is a LONG list of characters that are involved in this story, and they frequently appear with little-to-no introduction. I found it very difficult to keep track of them. Now, I was reading this on my Kindle and upon finishing it, I found a list of major characters and their role in the story, which would have been VERY helpful had I known about it. Sadly, I did not, and I think that most people reading the eBook version of this will have the same experience. So, when purchasing, I recommend buying a physical copy so you can easily flip back to the list of characters.
One last thing worth mentioning: I never knew if I should like or dislike Catherine. I think that this is probably intentional; the woman herself was rather ambiguous and she was known for her cunning, not her kindness. But if you're a person who needs to know where they stand on characters, you might find this to be frustrating. Personally, I was fine with it in this case because I feel that this depiction of Catherine is probably pretty true to the real woman, but in general, I find that it does help to like at least one of the characters in the book. Sadly, Catherine is the only one that we really get close to, and, again, it's hard to know exactly what one feels about her.
Overall, I think that while Stachniak has a way with words, this book could definitely use another round of editing before it is released in March 2014. There are some scenes that I think could be compressed and there's a lot of room for clarification. That being said, this book was a pleasure to read and I can't wait to read the finished product. I definitely recommend that you keep an eye out for it closer to its release date!
Disclaimer: I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley but in no way did this influence my review of the book.