Book Review: "Theodora" by Stella Duffy

Sometimes I get really excited about a book because it has an interesting picture and an exciting quote on the cover. The cover of Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore by Stella Duffy falls into exactly that category – the cover art features the back of a nude woman and the pull-quote from The Guardian (London)'s review reads, "There is no end of show business, court intrigue, and exotic sex."

Well, then.

I am sad to report that this quote is wrong on every level. The main character in the novel, Theodora, is an actress from sixth-century Constantinople, and in a way she sort of remains in "show business" throughout the book, but she leaves the theater proper early in the story. There is some "court intrigue" when Theodora becomes a Christian convert and is used to foster a relationship with Justinian, the man-who-would-be-Emperor. And there is only "exotic sex" if you consider a pre-adolescent girl being sold into forced prostitution by virtually every adult in her life, including her own mother, to be exotic. (I personally don’t, but then again, I read a lot of romance novels.)

But, I am happy to say, the cover of this novel is refreshingly misleading. There is nudity, and quite a lot more liberal use of the F-word than I expected. But while this is a book about someone who was, in fact, an actress, an empress, and a whore – Theodora is so many other things. She is strong and smart, a survivor of unfathomable abuses, yet always self-aware, self-confident, self-reliant, self-sufficient, and never a victim. The things she ends up with at the end of the novel are well and truly earned, and by the end of this book, I felt like Theodora truly deserved them.

And she'd definitely have some killer stories to tell about her journey.

We'll be discussing Theodora over at BlogHer Book Club this month -- if you're interested, why don't you join us?

Disclaimer: This was a paid review for BlogHer Book Club, but the opinions expressed are entirely my own.

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