First book: The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak, January 2012 release (ARC from Vine)
What it's about: The last half of Empress Elizabeth's reign and then the first bit of Catherine the Great's. Told in first person POV from the viewpoint of a lady spy who originally spies for Elizabeth and later becomes a friend to Catherine. Chronicles Catherine's mistreatment at Elizabeth's hands, the loss of her children either to miscarriage or to the Empress, her affairs with a Sergei and a Polish man and the Orlov brother, her discord with Peter, and her conspiracy to overthrow him.
|Catherine on wedding day
My star rating: Three. I liked it, but it had some quibbles.
Second, the movie, The Scarlet Empress, 1934
What it's about: A young and innocent Sophie travels to Russia, is treated like crap by Empress Elizabeth, loses her name and religion, falls in love with Alexei asap, beds a random guard in the dark of night, and gradually steals her husband's throne.
Liked: 1. The scene in which she stares down Peter's mistress. Ice, ice baby!! 2. And the scene in which she dons a soldier's attire and rushes off on a horse. 3. The bedroom scene in which she gets Alexei all hot and bothered and then... sends him on his way. Serves him right.
|The horrid smile
|Marlene Dietrich.. a blonde?
I would like to note a major difference here between this movie and the book above: In Winter Palace, Empress Elizabeth is very fond of Catherine in the beginning. In this movie, it's hatred from the get go. Elizabeth treats her like a brood mare. However, once again, everything ends with her obtaining power. :(
My star rating: Two. I didn't like it.
Third, is the book The Rebel Princess by Evelyn Anthony, 1953
It's also titled Imperial Highness.
What it's about: Basically the same stuff that I mentioned above in Winter Palace, minus 200 some pages and minus the lady spy narrative. Also, though the major story line is the same, there are minor differences in plot, such as Catherine seeking permission for her second love affair. This one is told in the third person and doesn't go on and on and on. It also skips the six years that Catherine is held in captivity with her husband while Elizabeth awaits an heir. Really, a good idea as that stuff was so boring in the WP. This book also evoked in me some deeper thoughts: You would think that Peter and Catherine would have hit it off as both came from very similar childhoods. Peter was greatly oppressed by Elizabeth and Catherine was beat down emotionally by her mother. I also noticed that one thing all three of these books/movie combo have in common is: Princess Johanna, Catherine's mother is a mega beeyotch.
What I liked: We get the whole story without the drawn out details. This book does not take an entire paragraph of colorful words to tell me the Empress loves theater or whatever. Catherine is a sympathetic figure in this. The WP had too many characters at times and they were often called by numerous names. I grew very confused. This book is much simpler and easier to follow along.
The passionate scene between Catherine and Orlov consisted of few words, but impacted me greatly: "With shaking hands Catherine tried to loose the ruby necklace which had been pressed into her skin in that wild encounter in the corridor; for a moment she could find no words for the tumult of emotions which possessed her. Accept his protection, live however briefly in the arms of a man who had stormed and taken her with the ruthless abandon of a marauding Cossack..."
Also loved the part where Catherine leads her troops, commands their respect, and dons male attire. It was a powerful scene. I got goosebumps.
What I didn't like: Again, the story ends just after Catherine takes the throne. However, this is the first of a trilogy and thus, I won't hold this minor quibble against the book. The story does continue, I just have to find the now out of print book that is next.
My star rating: Five. Really liked it. And thus, it wins this comparison. Hands down. And I found this one in a little book store in Montana.