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The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  1,871 ratings  ·  226 reviews
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,
Paperback, 440 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by Berkley Books
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  1,871 ratings  ·  226 reviews

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Jan 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Find this and other reviews at: http://flashlightcommentary.blogspot....

Arguably one of the most powerful women in history of the yzantine Empire, Theodora was the wife of Emperor Justinian I. Noted as savior of her husband's throne, she used her prominent position and political acumen to her advantage during his reign, promoting a personal agenda of social and religious reform. Immortalized in the ancient mosaics of the Basilica of San Vitale, her regal likeness does credit to her legacy, but o
Ashley Marie
4.5-5 stars.

June group read with Historical Fictionistas

GIVE ME ALL THE STEPHANIE THORNTON BOOKS. RIGHT NOW. Seriously though, this was a fantastic read. I found myself immediately sucked into the ancient world and charmed by Theodora's feisty personality. After that, it was easy to be in her corner for the rest of the book-- and lemme tell you, she goes through some pretty tough stuff all before the age of eighteen, let alone all the drama that happens later in her life. Holy cheese. If you lov
Sonja Arlow
I read The Tiger Queens: The Women of Genghis Khan about 2 years ago and was really impressed how this author took unknown women of history and make them come alive. I can highly recommend the story of Genghis Kahn’s wife and daughters. So, I could not help comparing my experience of that book with this one.

This is the author’s debut novel and I can see she was still finding her voice as a writer.

This is rags to riches story of a girl from the gutters of Constantinople who becomes a whore at 13,
Jenny Q
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Author Interview @ Let Them Read Books!

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'
Michelle Miller (True Book Addict)
I am sad to say that for all my knowledge of history, I really know almost nothing of Empress Theodora. What a story I have missed out on! A woman who rose from less than nothing to become the most powerful woman in the Byzantine empire. A truly inspiring story.I am very impressed that this is Stephanie Thornton's first novel. It is an excellent piece of historical fiction. The reader can tell that she has a passion for history...the research she put into this novel really shows. But it's not o ...more
Sandi *~The Pirate Wench~*
Setting: Sixth Century Constantinople.

3 1/2 stars for this reader.

After Theodora's father dies suddenly, she is desperate to keep her family from starving and has to resort to making a living and money with first her body and then with her talents on the stage. Theodora slowly begins moving in more powerful circles and it is in that realm that she meets the Emperor's handsome nephew, who falls in love with her. Though she flourishes as his personal courtesan, Theodora must consider what will hap
Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews)
Read This Review & More Like It On Ageless Pages Reviews!

"I both dreaded and feared to reach so high. It only meant I had further to fall."
The Secret History, ARC p.254

Stephanie Thornton proves that not all debut novels have to feel and read like debuts. The Secret History is a dense, detailed, atmospheric, and just an endlessly fascinating look at one of history's forgotten women. In a time where a woman was property, with little to no power of her own, this pleb-turned-patrician created her ow
Jun 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Only a handful of books get five stars from me. The fifth star is an endorsement of the story itself and the way the author delivered it. I leave other reviewers to tell the story of Theodora and Justinian while I praise the author's style. No doubt her writing mechanics were excellent, but her making climatic scenes of all the storylines is what intrigued me most. I never tired of reading Theodora's history, and that is quite a feat! The money paid for this book was money well spent. Thank you ...more
Apr 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own
Now what am I suppose to do?
In the last three and a half days, I devoured two of Stephanie Thornton's novels. I probably would have finished in less time if it wasn't necessary to stop for things like sleep, food, and children. Now I have to wait until December for The Conqueror's Wife: A Novel of Alexander the Great. Life can be so unfair sometimes.
Venturing into another one of the periods of history I know little about, this story is that of the Empress Theodora, who most people know came fro
Rio (Lynne)
Jun 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
It was refreshing to read about Theodora, a not so well known Empress and sixth century Constantinople. I was not familiar with her and Justinian's reign, so I went into this book with an open mind. It begins with Theodora's life as a poor child, who sold herself in theatre and prostitution. We watch her climb the social status ladder and see her sufferings. When she meets Justinian her life changes. I enjoyed the author's notes. She explains what is known and what isn't. She stayed pretty much ...more
Reeda Booke
Apr 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I am surprised that this is the author's first book because I thought it was phenomenal! I loved her writing and the way she told this story. It transported me back to ancient Rome with her imagery of the sights, sounds and smell, along with the culture of the time and how difficult it was for the women to make any sort of life for themselves. It's amazing to see how this woman rose from nothing to eventually become Empress and to win the love of the Emperor despite her history.
For all those wh
Jul 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, kindle
I can't join the chorus of praise for this novel, but I did finish it -- after getting a bit bogged down about a third in, while Theodora struggled to raise herself from prostitution by grabbing a rich patron (bodice-ripping alert).

I did know the basics of Theodora's story because I have read a couple of excellent novels by Gillian Bradshaw set during her reign. So I had expectations for what she would be like. Thornton has created a strong, vivid character, who is constantly being praised for h
Aubrey McFate
Sep 09, 2013 rated it did not like it
Are you kidding me with all these good reviews? No book that uses the word "snarky" should get to call itself historical fiction. EVER.

Plot summary: Carrie Bradshaw and friends time-travel to the Byzantine Empire, with issues of Cosmo and rabbit vibes firmly in hand. Theodora does things that indicate she is too stupid to live; Justinian loves her anyway because he is a buffoon who doesn't know how to rule. Everybody speaks like an extra from a mid-90s teen movie. The reader braces for the inevi
Aug 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating look at the life of a "forgotten woman of history", Empress Theodora, of the 6th century, and her rise to power from prostitution (and general lewdness), to the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. Not always likable, but certainly complex, her story was completely engrossing and interesting. I couldn't wait to get to the author's note at the end to see if I could determine which twists were actually factual and which were embellished. Although this was no romance bo ...more
Minni Mouse
3.5 stars. I picked this book up because after Mistress of Rome I was itching for more historical fiction...and this book did not disappoint.

The Secret History begins in the 6th century and chronicles a portion of the time of the Byzantine Empire. I didn't pay attention in school and hence don't really know what that means...but it's still a fascinating story! There seems to be a slew of factual, historical figures and events in this book that will educate as well as entertain.

1) T
Jun 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Where to begin in this review was the question when I first begun to write this. There are so many highlights to this story and what can be discussed on different viewpoints. Here is only a glimpse of my thoughts and feelings. Theodora is my new favorite and heroine who will capture your attention from the beginning and leave you with wanting the story of her life to continue. She is an incredible and courageous women who inspired one not to give up on what life might throw at you and she is the ...more
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fascinated by the Empress Theodora and the Byzantines, I picked this up to compare with other material I've read on her and Emperor Justinian [ca. 500 AD]. The novel was enjoyable--a quick, breezy read of only a few hours. I couldn't put the book down once I started.

Theodora tells her own story. I always like first person because I feel I get more of the character's thoughts, emotions, and motivations. The story takes us from Theodora's early years, death of her father, a bear-trainer at the Hi
High 3.5 stars.

After a slow start, I really enjoyed reading about a woman whose story has been overlooked by popular history. Thornton has a wonderful ability to utterly immerse her reader in an ancient world that is otherwise unreachable. I thoroughly enjoyed Thorton's debut novel, and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
It’s a shame that so many amazing women in history have been forgotten, or nearly forgotten. In her author’s note for The Secret History, Stephanie Thornton explains that she was spurred on to write about Empress Theodora after reading a single sentence in a history textbook, where Theodora’s deeds were lost amidst iconoclasts and famous generals. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly dissatisfied with the lack of female representation in history, and I’ve really started to seek out stor ...more
Considering it is february, it might be a little early to say a book I just finished will be in my top ten reads of 2017. And yet, I cannot help it: The Secret History was a marvelous read for me, a roller coaster of emotions, laughs and cries; one of those books you can't put down but are also afraid to finish, and one you want to start again right after finishing.

Stephanie Thornton's debut follows the life of Theodora, who became the wife of Emperor Justinian despite coming from the lower clas
Colleen Turner
I reviewed this book for

As a reader, I am always excited to find novels written about extraordinary women throughout history. So often the men who changed the world are highlighted and the women relegated to the sidelines as mere footnotes. However, certain women seem to demand more attention by the very nature of their lives and are just waiting for a great writer to come along and share their story. Stephanie Thornton is one such writer and Theodora, a woman who went fro
Heather C
In terms of novels and books about the Roman Empire, the Eastern Empire often gets the short end of the stick. I can confess to knowing nothing more about Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora than the fact that they were memorialized in mosaic (learned about in my high school art history class). However, Theodora seems to be the new “IT” girl lately and I was excited to read something more about this portion of the Roman Empire. Plus, isn’t the cover just absolutely gorgeous?! I don’t even min ...more
Meg - A Bookish Affair
4.5 stars. Wow! This book was really, really good. Empress Theodora is an absolutely amazing historical figure and this book really brought her to life. She went from being a prostitute to an actress to an empress to Justinian I, an emperor of the Roman Empire. Impressive leap, no? Just her basic story alone is really gripping. Debut author, Stephanie Thornton takes the story and turns it into something really special.

Theodora is such a good character. The book is told from her point of view so
Beverly Diehl
This portrayal of Empress Theodora focuses mainly on her rise to power, and a gritty, sexually rough girlhood. I liked the enemy-turned-friend relationship with Antonina, even if I wanted a little more explanation as to WHY Antonina's attitude shifted. There was something of a Sophie's Choice situation regarding her two children (history only records her having one) which gives her motivation for both secret-keeping and seeking a way to reveal her secret to Justinian.

This Theodora is always ridi
Aug 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I loved the unapologetic Theodora and the large cast that supported and butted heads with her. I'm in the habit of looking up every historical fiction character that I'm unfamiliar with and this lead me to some interesting articles on Antonina, Lupicina, and Comito (all real figures, WOW). I loved that everything felt fleshed-out.

Will definitely be reading Thornton's Hatshepsut novel.
Amy Bruno
Fabulous debut from Stephanie Thornton!
Kris Irvin
Jul 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017
Dang this was a good book. I couldn't put it down. I went into it not knowing anything about Justinian and came out having learned a bunch and greatly enjoyed myself to boot. Definitely recommend this one for historical fiction fans. Whew.
Mar 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I love the characters and story flow of this book. I have read a lot in my life, but had not come across the story of Theodora. She was a woman of spunk and drive. All her choices were not good and that in itself caused her heartache, but real life is like that. It was refreshing to read a story based on true events of a woman that fought and clawed her way out of bottom of the barrel and did it with character to become Empress with a great Emperor of a great Empire.
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
Empress Theodora began as an actress and prostitute and became Empress of the Roman Empire. Her life reads like a soap opera, and in Thornton's hands, it's a fast, sex-filled (but not necessarily raunchy) historical novel that is perfect for the summer.

Theodora's story is not for prudish. After circumstances force her sister to become an actress -- which was a step up from a street prostitute -- Theodora becomes one as well. Not pretty exactly, but clever and smart, Theodora scrabbles her way to
I wish goodreads would allow for half stars! This is really a 3.5

Given the sheer amount of historical fiction I've been reading lately, I think I'm gonna need to create a shelf solely for "Famous prostitutes/scandalous women who changed the world."

So Theodora is one of the footnotes of history that Stephanie Thornton's novels aim to really celebrate. This was the first novel Thornton wrote, and having just finished (and been blown away by) her latest novel, I have to say that she's definitely
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Stephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with women from history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska.

American Princess: A Novel of First Daughter Alice Roosevelt is available now and her next book, And They Called It Camelot: A Novel of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis will hit the shelves March 2020.

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