Impending death is often a time to reflect. People will look back upon their lives, on certain events, and on certain people and wonder if they did the right thing or if they lived a good life. It is no different for rulers. In "Empress of the Night" by Eva Stachniak, Catherine the Great, the Empress of Russia reflects back on her life, the people that were in it, and the events that shaped it.
"Empress of the Night" is told from Catherine's perspective. Catherine is near death and looking back upon her legacy. Catherine reflects on her childhood as the frightened Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst who comes to Russia to become the wife of Grand Duke Peter, nephew of Empress Elizabeth. She reflects on her complicated relationship with the two mothers in her life: her actual mother, the Princess Johanna and a mother figure in Empress Elizabeth. Catherine also looks back upon her unhappy and unsuccessful marriage to the odd and unlikable Grand Duke Peter. Reflections also include a look at her various lovers throughout her lifetime, her strained relationship with her son, another odd duck in Grand Duke Paul, her desire to put her beloved grandson Alexander in power when she dies, her failure in making her beautiful granddaughter Alexandrine the Queen of Sweden, and all her political maneuvering and complete absolute power. This is a full reflection on the life of one of the world's greatest rulers.
Sadly, "Empress of the Night" is not the most interesting read. While Stachniak's "The Winter Palace" (seen through the eyes of Catherine the Great's friend/servant) is captivating and a fresh take on the Empress of Russia, "Empress of the Night" reads more as a history book. It also has a very confusing and hard-to-follow stream of consciousness writing where Catherine just babbles leaving the reader confused as to who and what she is talking about.
Stachniak's research of Catherine the Great and her attention to detail are meticulous though. You really know the full scope of Catherine's life from reading this novel. You also get a picture of The Winter Palace, the dresses Catherine wore, her sexual escapades with her loves, and a full view of life in the Russian court.
"Empress of the Night" suffers from a lack of creativity and a real voice. Despite all the research and attention to detail, you never feel like you get to know Catherine. As readers, you'll feel and understand Catherine more in "The Winter Palace" compared to "Empress of the Night".
To purchase "Empress of the Night": http://www.amazon.com/Empress-Night-Novel-Catherine-Great/dp/0553808133
For more information on Eva Stachniak: http://www.evastachniak.com/