Release date: March 25, 2014
Told in third person present tense, this is Catherine the Great’s story from her own point of view, following the novel of her story told from her servant and spy Vavara's point of view. It covers the same time period that the first book did and then some, which means some scenes we have already seen before, from Varvara's point of view.
While it was good to see Catherine's take on things, I couldn't help but feel this follow up novel wasn't quite as good as the first. It is told as Catherine lay dying from a stroke which meant that often, her thoughts and memories are very erratic and there’s nothing to ground the story. Catherine jumps between the present moment and her memories with no indication and her memories are often very random and hard to link together (though they do seem to at least go somewhat in chronological order). It hurries over much of the content that we already saw in the first book, sometimes making only vague references to events in the assumption that the reader has read the first book. So if you haven’t read the first book, this will probably be hard to follow.
I also wasn't expecting it to be in present tense since the first book was not. I'm not a huge fan of present tense and while I do think it added to the feeling of being in Catherine's dying head as she is going over her life, I still don't love it.
However, I do think it was worth reading and seeing Catherine's thoughts and emotions which we didn't really get to see in the first book, and also more of Catherine's later life which we previously didn't see at all. There is a lot more about Catherine's son and grandchildren in the second half of this second installment, though only through Catherine's eyes, it added dimension to the story and was worth reading.
This is definitely more of a companion book than a sequel and it almost could have been trimmed down and integrated into the first book instead, to alternately show Varvara's and Catherine's point of view at the same time. So it's definitely not a stand alone book and I don't recommend it if you haven't read the first book but if you have, I do think the second is worth reading.