I received this book free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy
Published by Penguin Books on September 27th 2011
Genres: Historical Fiction
'Justinian took a wife: and the manner she was born and bred, and wedded to this man, tore up the Roman Empire by the very roots.' Procopius
Charming, charismatic, heroic - Theodora of Constantinople rose from nothing to become the most powerful woman in the history of Byzantine Rome. In Stella Duffy's breathtaking new novel, she comes to life again - a fascinating, controversial and seductive woman. Some called her a saint. Others were not so kind...
When her father is killed, the young Theodora is forced into near slavery to survive. But just as she learns to control her body as a dancer, and for the men who can afford her, so she is determined to shape a very different fate for herself.
From the vibrant streets and erotic stage shows of sixth-century Constantinople to the holy desert retreats of Alexandria, Theodora is an extraordinary imaginative achievement from one of our finest writers.
Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore tells the story of Theodora, before and after she became one of the most powerful women in the Byzantine Empire’s history. The novel touches briefly on her adolescent years and how it began by the age of 5 when her mother offered up her and two other sisters as supporters to the Blue faction.
Theodora was a strong thinking and willful woman in a time when this was far from acceptable. Theodora’s status was well known as an ‘actress’ when during these times being an ‘actress’ meant you were unable to marry and you were also unable to own property. During her relationship with Hecebolus she was his mistress, but nothing more. She did everything a typical wife would be expected to do, she just lacked title. This is when Theodora began her search for a priest or bishop who would be able to take her case to a higher court in order to have her sins absolved and to have the laws changed for her to be able to marry. She ends up being betrayed by her lady’s maid and friend, Chrysomallo, when she becomes Hecebolus’s lover and ends up with child. Theodora is forced to leave and learn to survive on her own using the only tool she knows; her body. The story continues with Theodora being introduced to Justinian and the path being paved to her becoming the future Empress.
This book is not a biography or a memoir, it is a historical fiction novel, and because of this I think I was expecting a little bit more from this. The author clearly did her research on the life of Theodora, but considering the fact that she was able to take artistic license with the subject, in the end it didn’t seem like she reached the potential the story could have had. In the end the story read like a biography and just told Theodora’s story rather than showing the life of Theodora and what made her the powerful woman she was known to be. I really didn’t care for Theodora all that much in this story; the character and overall story was definitely lacking.