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

3.44  ·  Rating Details ·  1,013 Ratings  ·  195 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
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(showing 1-30)
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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.
Libbie Hawker (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
Oct 19, 2011 Aimee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ann Keller
Jul 23, 2012 Ann Keller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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!
Sep 22, 2011 Marcie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Definitely a light historical fiction book that is loosely based on Empress Theodora's life. The book primarily focuses on Theodora's early life up until she is coronated. Other historical events and the Byzantine culture is limited in the story. I would have appreciated more details on the political parties' platforms. The fear of a schism in the eastern church did receive more attention with the theological differences. I also would have enjoyed reading about Theodora as empress. Will need a g ...more
Jun 19, 2011 Tara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 18, 2016 Isidora rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Prvi deo romana Dafijeve, kod nas preveden “Teodora, poslednja rimska carica”, predstavlja savršeno opisan narativni krug: od kćeri medvedara koja, u jednom od prvih prizora, sa sestrama i majkom moli predstavnike dve najuticajnije, zavađene stranke, za finansijsku pomoć - do novokrunisane carice, koja na istom Hipodromu, ali sada iz lože, po prvi put izlazi pred narod. Glavna junakinja je prikazana životno, uverljivo, psihološki istančano i vrlo senzualno. Kao ni Kleopatra ili (knjiška) Skarlet ...more
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
Apr 04, 2012 Doreen rated it liked it  ·  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
I left disappointed with this book. I don't really know a lot about Empress Theodora apart from her past as an actress/prostitute before marrying Justinian so I wouldn't know about fact checking, so I expected the book to fill that whole. And it did! BUT I didn't feel like anything was happening for more than 3/4 of the book. Yeah, Stella Duffy explained quite well the training to become an actress, the physical and mental process which these girls make from a very young age, but everything else ...more
Sep 12, 2011 Robin rated it liked it  ·  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
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
The style is not one I enjoy. Too much telling. Honestly, if the death of her youngest sister hits Theodora that hard, some effort should have gone into actually showing the relationship. When a non-character dies, it lacks impact.
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.
Barbara Justiniano
Excellent read!
Lakis Fourouklas
Sep 26, 2011 Lakis Fourouklas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fictional biography that travels the reader back in time, to the Byzantium era and the glory days of the great city of Constantinople. That is where that we for the first time meet Theodora, the second of three sisters, who due to the difficult times her family is going through, has to start working and earn a living from a very young age. She and her sisters, under the instructions of an eunuch called Menander, are getting ready for a life spent at the Hippodrome, which in today’s ter ...more
Marcela (BookaholicCat)
Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore is the fictional biography of Theodora of Constantinople by Stella Duffy. Theodora was a lowborn woman with a disreputable past who later became Empress of Rome and a Saint in the Orthodox Church.

Theodora was the daughter of a bear trainer and a common woman. After the death of her father, at a very young age Theodora is forced to earn her living as an actress next to her two sisters. During those times actresses were also prostitutes who entertained an audience
Colleen Turner
May 18, 2011 Colleen Turner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I reviewed Theodora for

Theodora, born circa 500 A.D. in Constantinople, was born into a performing family. Her mother, Hypatria, hoped to keep her daughters away from careers as performers. While this would provide them with stable money it would also place them in a hard life they could not come back from. Performers, especially singers, dancers and actresses, were responsible for entertaining men on stage and off, using their fined-tuned skills to impress their paying cu
Sep 22, 2011 Care rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hf-european
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,
Novel about Theodora, the (in)famous ex-whore wife of the emperor Justinian. She's portrayed very hostilely by the ancient biographer Procopius, and this novel takes a sympathetic look at her life. It's very much a modern work, with all sorts of contemporary feminist ideas imposed on the later Roman Empire. She's a "strong" female character who doesn't like men much and at once point takes a lesbian lover. Of course, the real Theodora among other things influenced the religious views of the empe ...more
When considering famous women in ancient history, Cleopatra and Nefertiti are just two women that immediately come to mind. Theodora of Constantinople is not. Yet, given her background and upbringing, it is one of the more extreme and shocking rags-to-riches story of its time, if not of history. Stella Duffy's fictionalized story of Theodora's rise to power aims to correct this oversight, as it highlights the fascinating and turbulent adolescence and background that helped her ultimately achiev ...more
Oct 06, 2013 Lisa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Särah Nour
Although historical figures are often ripe for fiction, doing justice to them often poses a challenge for many an author, thereby making historical fiction somewhat of a hit-or-miss genre. With Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, British author Stella Duffy sets out to chronicle the life of Theodora, the sixth-century actress and prostitute turned Byzantine Empress, and somehow manages to downgrade a remarkable life story into a cheap, plodding Harlequin novel.

This unabashedly bawdy novel begins
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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Stella Duffy grew up in New Zealand and lives and work in London. She has written fourteen novels, over 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 has twice won the CWA Short Story Dagger. HBO have optioned both of her Theodora novels for a TV mini-series. Stel ...more
More about Stella Duffy...

Other Books in the Series

Empress Theodora (2 books)
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