Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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

From the Back Cover:

Where Theodora went, trouble followed…

In sixth century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds, and rose from being a common theater tart to become empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. But the woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was, in fact, a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told…

When her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage of the city’s infamous amphitheater in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a back-door entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal. 

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the Emperor’s nephew. She will thrive as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day, this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it?

My Thoughts:

This was one of my most anticipated summer releases; I wanted it from the moment I saw that gorgeous cover and read the description, and the story lived up to the exotic decadence it promised.
The Secret History is a solid historical fiction debut, compelling, entertaining, and enlightening, with all the hallmarks of a juicy-good read, especially if you're a fan of strong, clever, realistically portrayed historical heroines, and really, who isn't?

I won't go much into plot, for life holds many setbacks and twists of fate for our Theodora as she rises from street urchin to actress to empress, and I don't want to spoil any of it, but I will tell you Theodora is a fantastic character. I was completely engrossed in her story as she navigated the backstabbings and betrayals of the theater world and then of the political world. Brash and smart-mouthed, resourceful and resilient, yet tenderhearted and achingly vulnerable at times, I cringed at her mistakes and cheered her triumphs. And she's not the only great character. I was impressed with Ms. Thornton's ability to craft such rich characterization in a large cast of supporting and tertiary figures.

The time period has been meticulously researched and depicted -- the entire novel is a treat for the senses. The sights, scents, and sounds of sixth-century Constantinople come to life, from dirty alleys to sparkling bathhouses, dank theaters to the sun-baked Hippodrome, cold hovels to vibrant palaces, and houses of sin to houses of the holy. Entwined with the lush description are the customs and mores and societal restrictions of the times, and vignettes of human nature in all its shades of gray. And like the Roman Empire itself, Theodora's world is not for the faint of heart. Violence, bloodlust, abuse, and sex abound. Stir in some jealousy, lust, ambition, and finally, love, and the reader becomes completely immersed in the layers of the story.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I couldn't put it down, but there are a couple of things which prevent me from calling it perfect. I had some trouble following the passage of time toward the end of the novel and found myself flipping back to see if I'd missed some things, and the ending seemed a bit rushed. And while the historical detail and characterization are excellent, the writing style lacks a bit of the eloquence I associate with the top-tier novels in the genre. But with a debut like this and two more potentially fascinating novels on the way -- about Hatshepsut and Genghis Khan's wife -- I think Ms. Thornton has a promising career ahead of her and is on her way to joining the ranks of my favorite ancient historical fiction authors.

My Rating:  4 Stars out of 5

The Secret History is on a blog tour!
Click here to check out my interview with Stephanie Thornton and enter to win a copy of The Secret History and a Byzantine coin!

Click here to view the tour schedule!


  1. I love your reviews, Jenny. But I always end up on Amazon after one of your 4 star plus reviews--and several dollars poorer.


    1. LOL! At least you know it's money well spent!!!

  2. Great review, Jenny! I just bought this one and will be reading it very soon -- I can't wait to do so.


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