The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora

4.7 10
by Stephanie Thornton
     
 

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Where Theodora went, trouble followed….
 
In sixth-century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds and rose from common theater tart to empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. The woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was a

Overview

Where Theodora went, trouble followed….
 
In sixth-century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds and rose from common theater tart to empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. The woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told….
 
After her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation and a life on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a backdoor entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.
 
Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and, by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the emperor’s nephew. She thrives as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it?
 
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Stephanie Thornton’s Theodora is tough and intelligent, spitting defiance against the cruel world of the Byzantine Empire. Her rise from street urchin to emperor’s consort made me want to stand up and cheer. Her later years as empress are great fun to read, but it was her early struggle as actress and courtesan that really had me roaring: either with rage at the misfortunes heaped on this poor girl, or with delight as she once more picked herself up with a steely glint in her eye and kept on going.”—Kate Quinn, author of Empress of the Seven Hills

"Loss, ambition and lust keep this rich story moving at top speed. Stephanie Thornton writes a remarkable first novel that brings a little known woman to full, vibrant life...A sprawling and irresistible story."—Jeane Westin, author of The Spymaster's Daughter
 

Library Journal
In this historical fiction debut set in 520 CE, Thornton offers both a fascinating interpretation of a powerful woman’s life and an enlightening portrayal of the great city known at various times as Byzantium, Constantinople, and Istanbul. Basing her tale in sound historical research, Thornton vividly re-creates the streets of Constantinople after Emperor Constantine established the city as the home of the Christian empire. The story follows the life of Theodora, a young beauty with a bright wit, charm, and a tendency to speak her mind who rises from destitution to become, first, a prostitute, then a celebrated actress, and, finally, the Roman empress. Theodora confronts sexual predators, scheming politicians, and dangerous family secrets and overcomes daunting circumstances, among them giving birth in a slime-filled alley at the age of 15. Her religious belief and emotional strength see her through the trying times in her marriage to Justinian and their rule of the Byzantine Empire. While the novel does not shy away from pain, it is most importantly a story of the strength of women. Theodora crosses paths with numerous strong women; they help her when she is destitute and challenge her at the height of her power.

Verdict While Empress Theodora’s story unfolds in what is today modern Turkey, one could borrow from the cowboy vernacular and say that Thornton’s well-conceived and engrossing tale exalts a historical figure of “true grit.” Fans of Stella Duffy’s The Purple Shroud and Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore may want to check out Thornton’s take.—Edith Lawraine Smith, San Francisco
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781101607664
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
07/02/2013
Sold by:
Penguin Group
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
448
Sales rank:
122,147
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Stephanie Thornton’s Theodora is tough and intelligent, spitting defiance against the cruel world of the Byzantine Empire. Her rise from street urchin to emperor’s consort made me want to stand up and cheer. Her later years as empress are great fun to read, but it was her early struggle as actress and courtesan that really had me roaring: either with rage at the misfortunes heaped on this poor girl, or with delight as she once more picked herself up with a steely glint in her eye and kept on going.”—Kate Quinn, author of Empress of the Seven Hills

"Loss, ambition and lust keep this rich story moving at top speed. Stephanie Thornton writes a remarkable first novel that brings a little known woman to full, vibrant life...A sprawling and irresistible story."—Jeane Westin, author of The Spymaster's Daughter
 

Meet the Author

Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

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The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Mirella More than 1 year ago
Theodora’s father was a bear trainer and her mother was a dancer and actress. They had three daughters. Although the family was far from being wealthy, neither were they poor. That is, until Theordora’s father died and they soon found themselves destitute and homeless. Desperate, their mother dressed up her daughters and paraded them into the hippodrome n wearing garlands into the hippodrome and petitioned for them to be accepted into the elite Blue faction, a powerful political group of the time.  Still a child, Theodora aspired to be like her older sister, a prostitute, and her mother, an actress. Theodora found work as a prostitute in a grimy, brothel that serviced men of lower rank and wealth. She also performed as an actress, portraying indecent acts on stage and sex for payment off stage. Guided by a new friend named Antonina, Theodora’s exceptional wiliness and ability to perform unusual sexy acts, soon earned her fame and wealth.  She soon came under the attention of a Syrian man named Hecebolus who took her with him to Libya. He treated her badly, and abandoned her with nothing but the clothes on her back. Ever resilient, she slowly goes from country to country until she finds herself back home in Constantinople where she gave up her former life as a prostitute to become a wool spinner in a house near the palace. Very beautiful, smart, and cunning, she soon came to the attention of Justinian, the heir of the emperor. Ultimately, they married and she ruled by his side. The story of Theodora is one of history’s most fascinating rags-to-riches story and it comes alive by Stephanie Thornton’s pen! The author does an exceptional job at portraying the Byzantine empire with all its political machinations, opulence, and underworld horrors. It is never easy writing about a ruthless woman from the dregs of society who rises to the highest levels, for to do so she will need to have her faults as well as her assets correctly portrayed. The author did a marvelous job at writing the good and the bad about Theodora’s personality and actions without creating a bias. Theodora comes across as credible and real, completely absorbing and insightful. A truly wonderful biographical novel!
TheDoctorsSailor27 More than 1 year ago
One of the most interesting and well written books I've ever read. Definately a new favorite to add to my list of books I NEVER get tired of reading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was such a page turner. I would highly recommend.
TudorLover324 More than 1 year ago
This book is definitely a heart-racing page-turner! The history, the settings, the emotions of characters long since gone are brought to life in vivid detail. I bought this book after I'd been reading Kate Quinn's Daughter's of Rome and such, and I'm glad I did. I recommend it to anyone and everyone!
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
This portrayal of Empress Theodora focuses mainly on her rise to power, and a gritty, sexually rough girlhood.  I liked the enemy-turned-friend relationship with Antonina, even if I wanted a little more explanation as to WHY Antonina's attitude shifted. There was something of a Sophie's Choice situation regarding her two children (history only records her having one) which gives her motivation for both secret-keeping and seeking a way to reveal her secret to Justinian. This Theodora is always riding the knife's edge of survival, even when theoretically secure as Empress, always dependent in some manner on pleasing a man. Which WAS the name of the game for almost every woman of that time. So even thought I already knew the ending, the sense of tension was high throughout the book. Time is the one thing I didn't like in this book; its passage was choppy and not always clear. I really liked the notes at the end where the author gave lists additional fictional and non-fictional reading, and talked about what historical facts she'd changed (age when Theodora began performing, among other things) and why. Overall, an interesting take on  a fascinating historical person.
krpoole1 More than 1 year ago
This is a very interesting read, as well as entertaining.  It is, of course, inspired by the Secret History written by Procopius in the 6th century, and tries to turn the contents of that book into a historical novel for the modern time.  If you think this novel is good, read the original just for comparison.
DeborahMO More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. I could easily envision the author's description of those times.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow! What an entertaining saga! Author Thornton has a real gift for storytelling. Yo Showtime! Are you paying attention here? Hey agents for Jennifer Lawrence, Mila Kunis and Kristin Stewart! Do your clients know about this potential star turn? Perhaps you should tell them about it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Awesome read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago