The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton
NAL Trade, July 2nd, 2013 (Historical Fiction)*
My rating: Outstanding Adventure
This rags-to-riches novel, about Theodora, wife of Roman Emperor Justinian I, contains intrigue, political maneuverings, travel and adventure, romance, hardship, betrayal, heartbreak, and personal success. The author transports her readers back to sixth century Byzantium with vivid prose about daily life in the late Roman Empire, from the impoverished circumstances of Theodora’s youth to the glittering world of the nobility.
It follows Theodora’s struggle to succeed against all odds, to make a better life for herself and her children – and along the way, she enchants and captures the heart of the very Emperor.
Her characters are complex and compelling. Theodora herself is charming, independent, tough, determined, and shrewd, but with a troublesome (and endearing) unerring ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time. Relationships between protagonists in this novel are complicated and realistic (there’s the rivalry, affection, misunderstandings, good intentions and sometimes hatred between Theodora and her sister). There are plenty of strong female characters, who work within the patriarchal system to get what they want and need, which for me, made the time period more believable and the story more enjoyable.
The novel is packed with action, travel, adventure, and suspense. At times it loses some of the up-close-and-personal atmospheric setting, but makes for a very intense, engaging read.
A few anachronistic phrases threw me out of the story, but I found the novel completely engrossing otherwise – for its action, characters, depictions of relationships, and believable world building.
Fans of historical fiction and adventure will love this tale of the Eastern Roman Empire.
*e-ARC provided by Edelweiss