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Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore: A Novel (Empress Theodora #1)

3.42 of 5 stars 3.42  ·  rating details  ·  761 ratings  ·  172 reviews
"A bravura performance: a witty, moving, sexy book that bursts with as much color and excitement as the city of Constantinople itself." -"Financial Times"
Roman historian Procopius publicly praised Theodora of Constantinople for her piety-while secretly detailing her salacious stage act and maligning her as ruthless and power hungry. So who was this woman who rose from hum
ebook, 352 pages
Published September 1st 2011 by Penguin Books (first published June 3rd 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 2,118)
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L.M. Ironside
4.5 stars

I'm trying to think of a way to describe this book, and "immensely satisfying" is the only descriptor that's coming to mind. That seems so weak, though! "Satisfying" implies just-okayness, but Theodora was anything but "just okay."

I think what feels so satisfying about this novel is the realization that fine craftsmanship is still alive and well within historical fiction. Since the success of The Other Boleyn Girl, the general tone of HF has taken a bit of a nose-dive as more and more a
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
Interesting enough premise but awkward writing -- a bit stuffy and bloated. While I was reading, I was engaged enough but every time I put it down, I couldn't find the motivation to pick it back up. Might give it a try again, someday.
This is the story of Theodora and her rise from dancer/prostitute to Empress of Rome. The book starts with Theodora working on stage at the Hippodrome and being trained by Menander, a man she feared and loved. After becoming famous she falls in love with Hecebolus and moves to Africa with him. When Hecebolus casts her off for another she flees Africa and finds her way to Alexandria where she finds her faith, looks for forgiveness for her sins, and puts her fate in the hands of Timothy who she re ...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
I loved the sound of this book from the moment I heard about it, and was thrilled to find it in paperback when I was in Sydney earlier in the year. With such enthusiasm, of course I had to read it right away, but I don't think it was due to high expectations that I finished it feeling largely untouched.

Theodora is the fictionalised account of an historical figure, Theodora, who grew up a child actress (and therefore prostitute) in Constantinople in the sixth century, a period commonly known as B
Carey Combe
Very poor, I kept on reading it as I expected with all the number of excellent reviews it received it was bound to get better - it didn't. Indeed, it got more and more ridiculous. I should have been warned when one of the reviews called Theodora as 'a wise-cracking tart with a heart'. Actually the more I think about this book, the more crap it was!
Ann Keller
Intensely seductive as a provocative dance, compelling as only history can be, Theodora draws the reader into the life of a common actress and dancer, who eventually became Empress of Rome.

As a child, Theodora learned the hard way. She was beaten when her spirit rebelled against the eunuch’s cruel instructions and when her outspoken opinions got the better of her. Her family was disjointed at best and friendships hard won, but the people loved Theodora. She was one of them. She could command th
A few weeks prior to reading this novel, I came across a short chapter in a history book about Theodora. She was a larger than life character that knew how to command an audience. Theodora lived during a tumultuous time. There is not a lot of documentation about this period and a lot of what we know is speculation. I was really interested in reading Stella Duffy's take on the Empress Theodora.
Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy depicts Theodora from a young child until her marriag
Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews)
Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!

3.5 out of 5

Theodora was one of the most influential women of her time. As a poverty-stricken dancer, as the most celebrated actress/whore in Constantinople, as a penitent nun in a commune in the desert, and as the wife of the most powerful man in Christendom, she commands attention and vast amounts of interest. Defying social strictures and traditions of her day, Theodora rose from a common birth and life to the most exalted position available: Au
Sep 13, 2011 Robin rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Robin by: BEA
Shelves: historical
3.5 stars

Advance reading e-book courtesy of Net Galley.

This was an interesting historical biographical novel of Theodora of Constantinople who rose from the underclass to become Empress of Rome and a saint of the Orthodox church. Due to family circumstances teen-age Theodora has to become a dancer/whore, which is the only profession available to young women of the underclass. From there she schemes and claws her way up to become the wife of Justinian and a powerful woman of the Roman Empire. A s
May 14, 2012 Doreen rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Di, Laura, and women(especially younger women) to have a window into woman's roles and influence.
Recommended to Doreen by: daughter-in-law, Kate!
Shelves: byzantium
Knowing nothing about Theodora before reading this book, I am left wanting to know more about her life as Empress. The information that was presented was all new to me. Disappointingly, the book ends, excluding Theodora's entire reign as Empress.

While the writing was sufficient to tell the story, there lacked the additional verbiage to make the book similar to other historical fiction that I've read and enjoyed. I don't intend for this to be a negative review. I enjoyed the book and would actua
Theodora of Constantinople was the daughter of a bear trainer who became a dancer, actress, prostitute, religious convert, mistress, Empress and finally Saint of the Orthodox Church. In Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, Stella Duffy provides a fictional biography of the first part of her life, from when the death of her father forces her on the stage to the moment she becomes Empress. A sequel is planned.

I found this book to be underwhelming. Theodora certainly had an interesting life, and it w
2.5 stars

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore was kindly provided to me by Netgalley for Penguin Group USA.

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore tells the story of Theodora, before and after she became one of the most powerful women in the Byzantine Empire’s history. The novel touches briefly on her adolescent years and how it began by the age of 5 when her mother offered up her and two other sisters as supporters to the Blue faction.

Theodora was a strong thinking and willful woman in a time when this
Jennifer (JC-S)
‘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. This novel by Stella Duffy, based on extensive research and accompanied by an impressive bibliography, is based on Theodora’s life from early childhood until just after her marriage to the Emperor Justinian.
The novel opens with the young child Theodora as part of a group being schooled by Menander about
Ambitious and interesting, well-researched, but not actually a very good novel.

It is clear that Duffy is trying to show, not tell; she just ...fails. At least when it comes to religion; Theodora's conversion has no emotional impact on me as the reader. By the end of the book, you sense that Duffy is just trying to finish; there's one sentence about how Theodora has lived in the imperial palace for five years, two of them as Justinian's wife; the wedding was, like, two pages earlier, and if you h
It took me a little while to really enjoy this novel, but after about 100 pages it just clicked with me and from then on I loved it. Duffy has quite a detached narrative style, but then a character like Theodora, who rises from poverty to empress, would have to be a tough cookie. I found myself warming to her spirit and intelligence over time rather than being manipulated emotionally by a Cinderella story. I have no idea how historically accurate it is, but it certainly made the ancient Roman em ...more
Sally Tarbox
Rather weak historical fiction, October 14, 2014

This review is from: Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore: A Novel (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 conso
Alex Handyside
Against my better judgement, I started this book. I don't usually read historical dramas, but this was about a real person so I thought I'd give it a shot.
Against my better judgement, I kept reading after page 80 - my usual threshold to abandon a book I'm not enjoying. And I wasn't.
This missed on so many marks.

Yes, there were some historical accuracies, but it was wild fiction/fantasy for the most part.
Yes, a fairly colourful picture is painted, but it's just not believable.
Nor is some of the c
Karen Wolff
Although I really struggled to get into this at first, I would say it is a fascinating bit of history which comes alive and made me want to know more. Stella Duffy brings this piece of history alive, my imagination was set free and I wanted to go in and read the sequel, The Purple Shroud, I was right in that world.

My only criticism is that some of the modern day language doesn't ring true. So I altered my mindset to enjoying a modern take on a historical setting. I don't believe they used the s
Joselle Vanderhooft
Just won in my first-ever Goodreads giveaway win! Looking forward to receiving and reading, since the Byzantine empire and the empress Theodora are interests of mine :)
Interesting book. This is an era of history I am not really familiar with so I found it intriguing.
Julie Barrett
Sadly, the title is the best part of this novel. Why the author even bothered to include "Empress" is beyond me, since the book ends as Theodora is crowned. What?!?! Even if the author is planning a sequel, that's a terrible idea to stop the book there. That was the part of her life I most wanted to read about.

The book is written terribly. TERRIBLY! At times I felt like I was reading a Wikipedia entry rather than a novel. Apparently no one ever told Duffy that a writer should show, not tell. Ins
Stella Duffy knows what it’s like to be working-class, to be a performer, to have faith, to be queer (her Theodora has a brief affair with a dancer, Macedonia, before meeting Justinian) and so what she writes feels real; as if it’s being imagined from the inside out, whereas most historical fiction is the other way around, a self-conscious effort to place yourself into another existence.

Her recreation of Theodora is a perfect example of how to write a flawed character and keep the audience’s sy
Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore tells the tale of Theodora's rise to become empress of the Byzantine empire. It focuses on her lowly beginnings as the daughter of a bear-keeper and dancer turned actress and prostitute, to her slow rise to power and influence and the washing away of her "sins" so that she may become a patrician and marry the emperor.

Ultimately, I found Theodora to be beautiful, but cold. The prose is lovely, perhaps leaning towards a starkness, particularly in length dialogue s
Viviane Crystal
Sep 13, 2011 Viviane Crystal rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
Theodora of Constantinople is smart and sassy as a very young woman. She is not so pretty but what she lacks in beauty she more than makes up for with her decent singing voice, comedic acting abilities, and the ability to improvise when the show is going awry or some facet produces an unexpected audience effect. She has a fierce ability to put up with much discipline in her art, forceful teaching that at times seems almost abusive.

Her talents are acknowledged after one particular evening's perfo
I won this from a Goodreads Giveaway. Thanks for the the free book!

This was an interesting read. I knew nothing about Theodora and I found her life and her time period fascinating. However, at times I thought the book read a little more like a biography than a work of historical fiction. It could have been spiced up a little bit. The author did her homework; Theodora's life was very well researched and the source notes were included in the book. I am sure she took license with the material, but
In choosing Theodora of Byzantium for her subject, Stella Duffy picked a definite case of truth trumping fiction. Duffy fills her novel with richly depictive discourse, transporting the reader into a world of political intrigue and religious turmoil, a world where the worth and potential of an individual was most often pre-determined by birth.

Born into poverty in a time (mid sixth century) and place (Byzantium) in which women had very few options, Theodora, daughter of a deceased bear trainer,
Well, this was an odd one. I really wanted to read it, as I'd become very curious about Theodora after seeing her amazing mosaic portrait in Ravenna and found out the bare bones of her unique career.


This novel was therefore a gift, and I raced through it in a day.

There's a lot of scope for fiction in the big gaps in the life of this Empress of Rome at a little explored period in history, and the extent of the author's research is impressive. But part of its oddness for me was the sensation th
I'm always excited to learn about an influential historical figure that I had not heard of before and seriously, this title draws attention. You can't argue with that.

So, obviously, I don't know all the Roman emperors. In fact, I'd never heard of Justinian before and thus had never wondered about his wife, Theodora. But seriously, she is one interesting character! Or at least in the way Stella Duffy portrayed her!

I never knew there was a rule in that time that actresses coudln't marry. And whi
Here we have the story of Theodora from Constantinople. A girl who early in life had to grow up fast in the ancient world. At a very young age, she is forced into acting to help support her family, from then on what little choices she had, were not really better choices. When the opportunity presents itself for her to move on to do other things, that is when she realizes that despite everything, nothing changes. Not until towards the end when she has realized that she is someone different, that ...more
This book was a fascinating tale of poor girl on the rough side of town who rises to the top of the Royal family. I enjoyed reading along her life’s story. Her years as an actress and whore were colorful with descriptions and darkened with the roughness of her teacher. Her brains kept her thinking ahead, understanding her profession was short-lived as she aged.

As her life took the new turn towards monogamy I was hopeful for her future, but cautious for her. Even so when what I expected to happen
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Stella Duffy grew up in New Zealand and lives and work in London. She has written thirteen novels, fifty short stories, and ten plays. The Room of Lost Things and State of Happiness were both longlisted for the Orange Prize, and she has twice won Stonewall Writer of the Year. She won the 2002 CWA Short Story Dagger for Martha Grace. She is currently adapting her novel State of Happiness for featur ...more
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