Book Review: Theodora by Stella Duffy
Theodora by Stella Duffy
The provocative subtitle to this very fine novel sums up the central character of Theodora – Actress. Empress. Whore. (Although her life path was not necessarily in that order!) This historical novel looks at the real life woman Theodora of Constantinople who came from humble beginnings to become the most powerful woman in the history of Byzantine Rome. Stella Duffy breathes life into Theodora, creating a memorable character who is utterly fascinating – sensual, determined, strong, charming, cheeky and courageous.
The novel opens when Theodora’s father is killed and she is forced by her mother to become first a dancer and then an actress so that the family can survive. Of course, as well as being an actress she is also forced to be a prostitute as part of the role, but she learns to control her body, her emotions, and the men who can afford her. But then she has the opportunity to travel far away from the city of her birth, the vibrant streets of sixth century Constantinople, to Pentapolis, the Five Cities at the tip of Africa, and after to the holy desert retreats of Alexandria – and she encounters situations she would never have dreamed of. Stella Duffy is a wonderful writer and Theodora is well worth your time. This is a wonderfully imaginative book that brings ancient history vividly to life in a way that is completely engaging.