When Vavara, a Polish orphan, arrives at the drafty Winter Palace of St Petersburg, she becomes schooled in the art of lock picking and love-making.
A spy always makes a good narrator, and Vavara proves an entertaining and waspish guide to the court of the Empress Elizabeth. Assigned to keeping tabs on the young Prussian princess betrothed to the empress's son, Vavara becomes the newcomer's confidante.
A smart move as this young woman grows up to become Catherinet the Great. Stachniak conjures up an intimate portrait of 18th cenury girl-power.