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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stephanie Thornton

The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora


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?

Summary & Cover taken from
Length: 448 pages (Paperback)
Source: Toronto Public Library
Available Formats: Print/E-book
Publication Date: July 2nd 2013 by NAL Trade

This was another one of the novels that I finally had the chance to read while I was on vacation. I've had the book on my TBR pile since January when I first saw the cover on GoodReads and I had to wait awhile to get it from the library and the waiting almost did me in but it was well worth the wait.

Stephanie Thornton created an exceptionally well written novel set in Constantinople in the 6th century. The novel centers around Theodora the lowly street urchin who rose from meager beginnings to go on to be come one of the most influential women in all of history when she became Empress.

I started The Secret History at around 10 p.m. one night and stayed up until 3 a.m. to finish it. It was written so beautifully that it sucked me into the story from the very first page. I've always been a fan of historical fiction especially those that center around strong female characters and I'm a firm believer that the quote "Well behaved women seldom make history" is true. While The Secret history is a fictionalized account of Empress Theodora's life, the amount of research the author did to write the story really showed, and she tried to be as historically accurate as much as possible but still took a creative license with it as well.

I loved how as soon as I began reading the book I felt that I was transported into the actual story. The way that Stephanie wrote the story and created such a rich historical back drop it was as though I could see the places that were being described as though I was there along with Theodora through out the entirety of the novel. For a debut author to bring a story to life as much as Stephanie did with this one I was really surprised and impressed.

I thought the way the characters in this story were just perfect. Good, bad and ugly I loved reading about all of them and I loved just how realistic they were. Their good qualities and their bad qualities as well as their personalities were really well developed, and they seemed as though I was watching living, breathing people interact.

Full of plot twists, adventure, and emotions The Secret History is a masterpiece of historical fiction. Theodora was a true underdog and I was rooting for her the whole time. Her ups and downs were triumphant and tragic. Stephanie Thornton made a fantastic debut with this novel and I can't wait to see more written by her and thanks to her I have a newfound obsession with historical fiction based on Theodora. This is definitely one of my top 10 favourite books of the year.

I would recommend The Secret History to fans of historical fiction that is equally character and plot driven as well as an immensely strong female character based on a real historical figure and one of the world's most prominent and important women.

I read this book for the following reading challenges:
2013 150+ Reading Challenge
2013 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Loved it!

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  1. I haven't read this book but I read a different novelization of Theodora's life and she was amazing. I loved reading about her and I may have to see if my library has this one.

    1. Bea, I think you'll really like this one! I can't say enough good things about it, I hope your library does have it and that you get to read it soon :)

  2. Fantastic review. I remember you enjoyed this book very much. You love yourself some historical fiction

  3. I haven't a ton of stories set during this era but it sounds really interesting, and I like the sound of Thornton's writing. Great review Kimberly!


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