Sins of the Empress

Written by Paula Paul
Review by Heather Domin

“All that I have ever done, I have done for love.” The opening line says it all: Paula Paul’s novel of the life of Catherine the Great is not only a story about the great loves and losses of its protagonist, but also an obvious work of love by its author. The novel follows Catherine from her early days as Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, to her ill-fated marriage to Peter III, then through various tragedies and triumphs culminating in her celebrated reign as Empress of Russia. Princess Sophia is used as a pawn by her scheming mother and finds herself in a foreign land surrounded by strangers, wed to the heir of Russia, a cruel and feeble boy who would become increasingly unbalanced over the years. Now christened Catherine, the young duchess seeks the love she has been denied by mother and husband via her friends at court and, eventually, several intimate relationships. She would be judged by history for her suspected liaisons and accused of conspiring in her husband’s murder, but Catherine is destined to rise above her enemies and become Empress of Russia, ushering in a golden age for the land she loves as her own.

Readers need no previous knowledge of Russian history to become absorbed in the story, and it’s likely that many will be inspired to learn more; the historical detail is meticulous and authentic, and the author’s passion for her subject is evident. Paul’s writing is evocative without drowning the story in flowery prose; some of the characters are simply good or bad, but Catherine herself comes through as a sympathetic protagonist who lived a bittersweet but legendary life. Sins of the Empress is highly recommended.