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Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore

(Empress Theodora #1)

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  1,218 ratings  ·  226 reviews

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 humble beginnings as a dancer to become the empress of Rome and a saint in the Orthodox Church? Award-winning novelist Stella Duffy vividly recreates the l

Paperback, 339 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Penguin Books
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3.49  · 
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 ·  1,218 ratings  ·  226 reviews

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Oct 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
May 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: series
Interesting look at a woman not often mentioned in the history pages. Stella Duffy doesn't hold back and I respect that she didn't make Theodora seem too perfect but a strong woman in her own right. I am looking forward to reading the sequel.
Feb 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed Ms. Duffy’s enthralling story and congratulate her on bringing Theodora to life for all of her readers. This is a book about a historical figure, but also about strength. The strength of women, the strength of the poor, the strength of history. I have learned much in this novel and newly appreciate what it must have been like to be a woman in ancient times.
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!
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 rated it it was amazing
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
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: A
Sep 10, 2017 rated it liked it
This is an interesting book though not entirely satisfying. The language used is often very modern which can be annoying and it seems a bit light on historical detail. Theodora is an interesting character and this book does a fairly good job of bringing her and the times to life.
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
Sep 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
Feb 01, 2019 rated it did not like it

First and hopefully last book I pick up and cannot finish for 2019. I somehow doubt it will be though. One of my resolutions for this year was to stop making myself finish books I don't like. Life is much too short and there are so many great books waiting.

This book was just not for me. As I read through I kept getting glimmers of a good story hidden beneath too many layers of gobbledygook. The writing was atrocious. I sometimes had to read the same sentence multiple times to even get a sen
Jun 19, 2011 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
 Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ Jenn Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ
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
Laura Tenfingers
A very informative and well told account of an amazing life. Theodora, who I must admit I knew nothing about, led an unbelievable life and lived the whole gamut of experiences. Very wow. Poverty, abuse, success, escape, persecution, religious lockup, return to origins, rags to riches... the whole shebang.

My only criticism is that I didn't connect emotionally with Theodora. I read on out of curiosity but I wanted to care more about her.
Sep 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a great read as well as an inside look at a time and place I didn't know a great deal about.
Feb 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
I forgot to review this when I read it, but I really enjoyed it because I felt like it did a good job of building up her world to better understand her story.
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 rated it liked it
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
Sep 12, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Jan 24, 2012 rated it liked it
Maybe because i attended public school - but if an entire book can't teach me one new word, i think it must be too simple. But i enjoyed this little romp, and am duly chagrined that after our trip to Turkey a few years ago, and my pseudo-study of Istanbul's history, including how way cool Justinian was (you can still catch fish from the cisterns fed from hills far away!)- i had no clue who his wife was or how incredibly interesting her history was. Probably, in fact, a huge chunk of his insights ...more
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.
Jeffrey Cavanaugh
Nov 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Despite the author's clunky writing, this fictionalized account of Theodora's life before being raised to the purple is too rich in history, place, and character to put down.
Joselle Vanderhooft
May 22, 2011 marked it as to-read
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 :)
Sep 13, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting book. This is an era of history I am not really familiar with so I found it intriguing.
Feb 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ever since Ghost Empire revealed all the drama, pageantry and grittiness that constitute the 1000 year history of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire I've been working to make time to zero in on the life stories of men and women involved in shaping that history.

Nope, I'm not one to read the dreadfully dry histories and biographies of these figures. I'm happy to let hardworking authors such as Robert Graves and Stella Duffy do the heavy lifting and then present me with well researched storie
Rachel ♡
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 fifteen novels, over sixty short stories, and devised and/or written fourteen 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 ...more

Other books in the series

Empress Theodora (2 books)
  • The Purple Shroud (Empress Theodora, #2)