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Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore [Hardcover]

Stella Duffy
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Book Description

3 Jun 2010

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.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Virago (3 Jun 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844082156
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844082155
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.8 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 416,487 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stella Duffy was born in London and grew up in New Zealand. She has written thirteen novels, over fifty short stories, and ten plays. In addition to her writing work, she is also a theatre director and performer. She lives in London.

Product Description

Book Description

* A brilliant new novel from the author of Singling out the Couples, State of Happiness and Parallel Lies

About the Author

Stella Duffy is the author of seven novels and the Saz Martin crime series. She has published over thirty short stories, many feature articles, and also writes for radio and theatre. Stella Duffy was born in the UK, grew up in New Zealand and now lives in London. In addition to her writing work she is an actor and improviser.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I really wanted to enjoy this book... 27 Sep 2010
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
... but like some of the other reviewers here I found this really disappointing and quite a lifeless read. Theodora seems like a character just made for fiction but Duffy doesn't manage to make her live. The greater part of this book is 'told' in page after page of authorial exposition rather than being 'shown' to us in dramatic scenes and dialogue, something which always makes me feel like I'm being held at arm's length from the book and the story it's trying to tell. That combined with an almost palpable self-consciousness that this is 'historical' fiction made the entire project feel artificial and very thin.

Theodora comes to life far more in Robert Graves' old novel Count Belisarius (Penguin Classics) and in the main extant source Procopius' The Secret History (Penguin Classics).

I really wanted to enjoy this book and was looking forward to a modern and female reinterpretation of a figure who might have been mis-represented by hostile chroniclers, but sadly this book managed, for me, to both dilute the wayward, transgressive Theodora of Procopius and yet not substitute anything more lifelike in its stead - very definately a missed opportunity.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Theodorable! 14 Jun 2010
By Simon Savidge Reads TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
I think the most important thing in any book where the main character is also the title of the novel; you have to make that character reader friendly, why are you going to get through 300+ pages if you don't like the star of the book. Theodora definitely is the star of `Theodora' (that sounds a bit wrong, you get what I mean). From the death of her father at five killed by his own favourite bear of his trade, which we see through flashbacks of a kind, and the fact as the plainer and less talented in dancing and singing sister of three Theodora has a slight underdog status from the opening of the book and you feel for her, you side with her, you like her.

However do not let first impressions fool you as Theodora is determined, I want to say gutsy but it's a bit of a cliché, and what she lacks in some talents she makes up with more, her mind and her body tend to win people over though not necessarily in that order. We follow her journey from the dark underbelly of Constantinople and its prostitution, through the theatre and onwards (I don't want to give too much away) as she breaks the mould to become the woman no one would believe she could. There is a twist in the middle as she follows her heart rather than her head and exposes another side to her we have not seen before, you like her more.

The book isn't just about Theodora though and there are a few characters that deserve there own mention too because characters are something that Stella Duffy does exceptionally well. There is the tough loving teacher and eunuch Menander, the butter wouldn't melt (though watch out) Chrysomallo, the dashing Hecebolus and the delightfully wicked Euphemia.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A LOST OPPORTUNITY 9 April 2012
By Eleni TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
This is a fictional biography inspired by the tempestuous life of Byzantine empress Theodora. The story starts with Theodora's training as a child dancer and follows her from her difficult childhood to her success as an actress and her marriage to Justinian. Sadly, the story ends there and the book only covers the 'actress' and 'whore' part of the title, which is a shame as her reign as an empress was one of the most significant and adventurous times of Byzantine history.

Byzantine empress Theodora was one the most influential women in history, a remarkable woman whose fascinating life is the ideal subject for a historical novel. Sadly, this historical novel doesn't do its heroine justice. The novel is not gripping at all, as it is written like a boring documentary, with long tedious narratives, followed by short simplistic dialogues.

The characters are not believable or likable which makes the reader unable to sympathise with them or care about what happens to them. Especially Theodora is underdeveloped, one-dimensional and just plain boring. Duffy's Theodora is a heartless slut, whose only concern is to survive. She is presented as a ruthless whore who treats all her relationships with men as prostitution, including her relationship with Justinian, and only has romantic feelings for her fictional female sexual partners.

The greatest lost opportunity is the lack of atmosphere. Byzantium is the ideal backdrop for a novel as it combined the culture, images, sounds, and smells of both the West and the East. Sadly, the Byzantium of this book is as colourless and boring as everything else in the novel; even the extended descriptions cannot add to the atmosphere as they are soulless as the descriptions of a bad documentary.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great story set in a historical context 31 May 2010
Format:Hardcover
Stella Duffy is above everything a great story teller, whether it be a Saz detective novel, or a literary novel. Here she turns her skills to a historical context. This is NOT a biography of Theodora, equally its not a historical novel as some in that genre where the author gets bogged down in the research that has taken them months and is determined to use as much of it as possible in their novel - so much so that it gets in the way of the story and the characterisation of the key protagonists. THEODORA is a good story first and foremost - a stonking good read - with characters who you want to get to know, in particular Theodora who jumps off the page. The history is there as a backdrop (Stella has clearly done her research) and just enough to help us to understand the world Theodora lives in. So if you like a good story, with real characters this is for you.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Theodora Book
My ex thought this was fab. She's a big fan of Stella and has ready all of her many books
Published 5 months ago by Ms. M. A. Collier
2.0 out of 5 stars It's only a novel
I should have read the small print ... it's not a biography .... it's a novel ! Had I realised I would not have bought it.
Published 9 months ago by Mary
5.0 out of 5 stars Brings Theodora and her world vividly to life
In the ancient Byzantine empire, the rise of a famed Constantinople actress named Theodora - with whose profession prostitution went hand-in-hand - to the position of empress... Read more
Published 20 months ago by Jeremy Bevan
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story told in a fascinating way
Stella Duffy is a novelist, not a historian, and this book is a work of fiction, as she reminds us in a note at the end of the book. Read more
Published on 9 April 2012 by Torben Retboll
2.0 out of 5 stars Theodora
What a silly book. Like most readers i was looking forward to reading this but did not get past the first 30 pages. Read more
Published on 6 Mar 2012 by S. Smith
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating historical fiction
Theodora by Stella Duffy is a historical fiction novel based on the life of Empress Theodora of the Byzantine Empire. Read more
Published on 9 Oct 2011 by Helen S
4.0 out of 5 stars `You can waste a very long time looking back.'
The Byzantine Empress Theodora (c500-547CE) had an interesting career as an actor and a prostitute before becoming the wife of the Emperor Justinian. Read more
Published on 6 Nov 2010 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
I bought this book on the strength of its write up but it was a very boring book. I was looking forward to it as I had been looking for a life of Theodora for some time but I found... Read more
Published on 14 Aug 2010 by Persis Gretna
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Read
It was a great read, true to as much is known about Theodora, with enough license taken to create a very enjoyable read.
Published on 21 July 2010 by Mark Mueller
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
'Theodora' really is a jewel of a book. I'm a big fan of Stella Duffy's work and usually her name alone is enough to make me pick up a book and this is a standout, shining example... Read more
Published on 3 July 2010 by Mobeena Khan
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