Review: The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton

The exotic flavor of the east is resonating and glowing off every page of this novel!

In sixth century Constantinople there is a woman who will change history.

A woman who comes from nothing, rising above numerous struggles to become one of the most powerful women in the Roman Empire.

Theodora’s family isn’t exactly wealthy. Her father trains bears and her mother is an actress and dancer.

Though they aren’t completely destitute, money isn’t exactly in abundance but they are managing.

That is until Theodora’s father dies. Next thing she knows, they are penniless. Soon, she is faced with starving on the street. Theodora vows to not let this happen. She will do whatever it takes to survive by any means possible.

If that means prostitution or taking to the stage–she will do it. Whatever it takes.

But what makes Theodora different is she is intelligent. Though she is from low birth she is able to read and write. She was determined to rise above her situation and become something more.

One night, Theodora captures the attention of a man named Hecebolus. She falls in love with him and he takes her to Lybia with him. Eventually his true color shine through and he leaves Theodora with nothing but the clothes on her back in a foreign city.

Ever resilient, she makes her way back to Constantinople where she captures the eye of another powerful man, Justinian–the heir of the emperor. When they marry, they become the power couple of the empire.

This was a sweeping and thrilling novel to read. I absolutely loved Theodora. Her resilience and drive were absolutely inspiring. I loved reading about her struggles and challenges she faced, just when I though ‘oh this poor woman it can’t get any worse’ she would rise like a phoenix from the ashes stronger than before. I loved her character and her story.

For me, the hallmark of a great character is when I can see myself in his or her shoes and that was the case for me with this novel. I felt like her and I could connect and I simply loved her and this novel.

I haven’t read a lot of historic fiction from this period either, so that was another part of the novel that kept me reading. I loved reading about the class and gender divisions of the era. Culturally and socially, it was an intriguing read as well.

The author really knew her subject matter, that part was evident. I know a little of this time period and the author did a great job blending facts and fiction together into the novel. The only thing that I struggled with was some of the language.

For me, some of the language didn’t ring true to the time period. This is a minor thing that didn’t detract from the novel overall but at times I found somewhat distracting. For example there were some modern terms and phrases that were used such as ‘snob’ that I felt didn’t quite belong in the time.

I have read some other similar reviews and I will agree with them, some of the language is out of place and context but overall I don’t think it derailed the story by any means, just enough for me to give the novel a 4.5 star rating instead of a 5.

And can we just talk about the cover for a minute…..stunning! This cover is superb! I love that the woman’s face is slightly turned away, it really created the sense of secrecy and intrigue for me.

Fantastic cover! I would read the book simply based on the cover, it just so happens that an equally beautiful story eagerly awaits reader on the inside as well!

Truly a sizzling summer read!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton 

This book counts toward: 2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Recommendation: 4.5 out of 5

Genre: Historic fiction

Memorable lines/quotes: NA


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