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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Historically Accurate.
An amazing woman, in a brutal era:the decline of the Roman Empire; yet a triumph of the human spirit. It is incredible that the Hagia Sophia still stands,if somewhat altered, incredible architecture for the age. Full of intrigue,treachery,murder,yet still a love story. I highly recommend this.
Published 9 months ago by William Christie

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3.0 out of 5 stars Rather weak historical fiction
Somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3 *
A very light read, chronicling the life of Empress Theodora of Byzantine, from her childhood as an actress/ dancer, soon propelled into prostitution; her rise in fortune as the mistress of a politician in Libya; her religious conversion in the desert and return to Constantinople...the book finishes with the commencement of her reign...
Published 10 days ago by sally tarbox


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Historically Accurate., 8 Jan 2014
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An amazing woman, in a brutal era:the decline of the Roman Empire; yet a triumph of the human spirit. It is incredible that the Hagia Sophia still stands,if somewhat altered, incredible architecture for the age. Full of intrigue,treachery,murder,yet still a love story. I highly recommend this.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Rather weak historical fiction, 14 Oct 2014
By 
sally tarbox (aylesbury bucks uk) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore (Paperback)
Somewhere between a 2.5 and a 3 *
A very light read, chronicling the life of Empress Theodora of Byzantine, from her childhood as an actress/ dancer, soon propelled into prostitution; her rise in fortune as the mistress of a politician in Libya; her religious conversion in the desert and return to Constantinople...the book finishes with the commencement of her reign as consort to Justinian.
Now I quite like historical fiction, but somehow this didn't work for me. I accept Ms Duffy's note that this is a novel and bits are fictionalized, but that's not the issue. I just found Theodora very 'flat' and unbelievable. The dialogue is terribly 21st century ("Nothing escapes you, does it, big guy?" Theodora smiled...So you'll see this is the seal of the Patriarch of Alexandria. And yes, I am a day late, and no doubt I'll get a b****cking for it." ')
Events don't seem quite logical (the 'conversion' of which much is made is swiftly followed with our heroine back in the city, sleeping with men and women.)
It reminded me somewhat of Jean Plaidy's books - but not as good.
I've certainly learned something about the Byzantine royals, but don't feel motivated to read the sequel.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars theodora actress whore empress, 15 Jun 2012
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Brilliant story and a cracking yarn that carries you along effortlessly. Maybe the character was too modern in her thinking and attitudes, and some attention to detail about the religious debates current in Byzantium would have been useful.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A LOST OPPORTUNITY, 9 April 2012
By 
Eleni - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore (Paperback)
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.

I don't normally expect a historical novel to be completely accurate, as I realize that it is fiction and not history. However, there are so many inaccuracies and sloppy research behind this story, that it does not make any sense even to someone familiar with the history. Furthermore, what I found disturbing is the attempt to legitimise this 'fictional' account of Theodora's time with a map and an extended bibliography.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read!, 21 Aug 2012
This review is from: Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore (Paperback)
I don't usually like historical fiction. Some that set stories in historical times/places but invent characters I like, but not so much the ones that attempt to create fictional characters out of historical figures. The characters rarely come to life in the book, mostly because, you know, they're dead outside the book. Historical fiction also tends to be too heavy on setting for my taste. It's as if the authors think the readers need to be absolutely convinced of the historical accuracy of every minute detail from the architecture of the period to the names and dates of every single place and event (in fairness, some readers do want this I suppose, but I don't. If I want that kind of detail, I'll read nonfictional accounts). Finally, most historical fiction of this sort is by and about men. Which is fine, I suppose, since most historical accounts available to authors are also by and about men - the his story of history - and since most of the political figures that these books tend to portray were men. But the women in the books are often, at best, portrayed as secondary characters, at worst, as completely without agency (and yes, this is often true of contemporary fiction - and everything else - as well).

So those are the main reasons I don't like historical fiction. Now let me completely contradict myself by telling you that I absolutely loved this book about Theodora, Empress of the (Byzantine) Roman Empire. I'm not going to tell you about the book itself but about what it is that I loved about it. When I'm reading a great book, there always comes a point when I know that it's a choice between put it down now or read until you finish it. I reached that point around 1:00 a.m. and knew I should go to bed and wasn't disillusioning myself by thinking I'd read just a few more pages. I looked at the clock, I looked at the book, and I kept reading. I finished at 3:30 with a sigh and damp eyes. I love Theodora. This historical character may be 1500 years dead, but on the page, she is completely alive! I have no idea how accurate the historical details of Theodora's life and the various settings are. There certainly is enough description to get a general feel for the atmosphere, the times, and the lack of telling the reader things the author feels they must know is refreshing to me. Instead, we get glimpses of what life might have been like for those living during the years in which Theodora's story unfolds. Instead of a long winded, forced telling of the role of eunuchs in the Byzantine empire (for example) we are shown the (partial) fluidity of gender and sexuality through the eyes and the life of young Theodora. I like this.

The reading/viewing/listening public are enthralled with poverty as a theme. We make ourselves feel better by basking in the nobility of poverty. Knowing that the poor have the same values as we do (the viewing/listening/reading middle class public) only tenfold, because they must try so much harder, reassures us, it reaffirms our values, it justifies poverty as what we have overcome, as what we could have been. Duffy doesn't let us get away with this. She gives us a heroine who just gets on with it. She turns from the greens to the blues because it is how she may best ensure her family's survival. She abandons her child to more capable hands because she knows that they will both be better off. She and her best friend part with hearts heavy and words few because anything else is sentimental garbage. She moves on because she must. This, to me, is the theme of Theodora as Duffy writes her. Theodora is a smart-mouthed defiant child who grows into a woman who remains exactly that. She knows what is good for her and she uses it to her advantage. When she can. But sometimes her mouth and her defiance get the better of her, and that's the fun part. Her mouth, more than any other part of her well used body, is always what gets Theodora into trouble. And into trouble she does get.

Theodora, in ways similar to Duffy's earlier The Room of Lost Things, struck me this way; I think I've read one thing and 24 or 48 hours later, I feel the theme of the book (or maybe just the theme in my head) hit me like a ton of bricks. This is not a book about an historical figure (oh, but it is) it is a book about strength. The strength of women, the strength of the poor, the strength of history, the strength of the banal. This is what she does so well. She takes things that are ordinary. She makes them come alive. And she leaves them behind, as ordinary as they were before she told us about them. Beautiful.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling read..., 17 Jun 2014
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Highly recommend this book. Very entertaining, enlightening and beautifully written. I look forward to reading the sequel which shall be my next purchase.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A novel, 1 April 2014
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This review is from: Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore (Paperback)
although a novel it appears to cover the historic facts accurately and gives an insight into the lives and times of a very interesting character
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4.0 out of 5 stars Theodora, 13 Aug 2013
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Fascinating read. Like all novels of this type, the historical accuracy may be questionable, although clearly all the dates and personalities are in place, but no-one can ever know the true minutiae of personal stories. Made a good read and kept me interested enough to buy the sequel, which was also good, but perhaps not quite as tightly plotted as this one.
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5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting take on them all, 28 Nov 2012
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I'm a big fan of Byzantine history and this did not disappoint. A good counterpoint to Procopius.I just hope that she does a similar job on Robert Graves. It is not that I believe Justin was a kindly old duffer or that Justinian wasn't a half-arsed imperialist it is just nice to get a contrary point of view. 'Graves, she has surpassed thee!"
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3.0 out of 5 stars a cheery romp through an unusual bit of history, 3 Nov 2012
This review is from: Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore (Paperback)
I got this as part of a book club and everyone enjoyed it. It's a good story, but most of it is conjecture, as very few real facts are known. It's a good holiday read.
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Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore
Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy (Paperback - 2 Jun 2011)
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