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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Book Review: The Secret History by Stephanie Thornton & Giveaway

the secret history

The Secret History by Stephanie Thornton
Paperback, 448 pages
NAL Trade
July 2, 2013

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Received from the author for review with Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour

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?

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 mind that we don’t see her face because it is beautiful and different that the seemingly cut and paste style covers lately.

What is there not to love about Theodora? I dare anyone of you who reads this to not fall in love with her. She is tough, smart, politically minded, and demanding. She makes something of herself to rise up from the gutter. She is sassy and fun. A heroine that we have been lacking in HF lately, in my opinion. The other characters were awesome as well. They all had so many different qualities to them and were very real characters. Even more, I loved the dynamics between the characters. Theodora and Justinian had some great sparring matches, each trying to outwit the other. Whether dealing with other women from the lower class or engaging with the courtiers, she always came out verbally on top.

The setting of the novel was so atmospheric I could sense the world around me – the sights, smells, and sounds. I can truly say that I have a solid concept of the Eastern Empire now and can tell the marked differences between it and the old Western Empire.

The only thing that I could conceivably complain about was the jump between the last two sections of time – I obviously wanted more of it and would have liked to know a little more about the later aspects of her life. Even at 448 pages I wanted more! I would recommend this novel to any historical fiction fan. If you have liked the works of Kate Quinn and Michelle Moran (both of which were set in the Ancient World) you will love this novel!

This is author Stephanie Thornton’s debut novel. You can visit the author’s website and blog for additional information about the book. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Here are some choices for purchasing the book: Amazon, B&N, RJ Julia (my fav indie bookstore).

The Secret History Tour Banner

You can follow along with the rest of the blog tour by visiting the HFVBT site or on Twitter with the following hashtag: #SecretHistoryTour.

Thanks to the HFVBT tour, I have a paperback copy of The Secret History to offer to an international entrant.  Giveaway will be open until July 14th.  Entries are made through the Rafflecopter below.  Good luck!

**Update** The giveaway also includes a Byzantine coin along with the copy of the book!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Copyright © 2013 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Up until the last few weeks, I had never heard of Theodora. And now I've read about her in two or three different blogs. She sounds like a great subject for historical fiction.

    1. You know, I was relatively the same - and then I notice that there are a couple other Theodora books coming out now too! Love new subjects.

  2. Thank you for the giveaway! It's a real art to have a historical book with the setting that is so atmospheric. Must say I know nothing about the Eastern Empire and this sounds like a good book to start with! denannduvall@gmail.com

    1. You will certainly know a thing or two by the end of the book!

  3. I'm fascinated by this book; I've heard of Theodora but can't say I know a whole heck of a lot about her.

    1. All I knew was there was a beautiful mosaic of her - that was it! But she is so fascinating!

  4. I don't think I've heard of Theodora. I'd certainly like to know more.

  5. Like you before this novel, for me Theodora is a vague figure that I have heard is interesting, but haven't been sure why. This one sounds like a winner! Thank you for the chance to win.


  6. Thank you for the chance to win this book, it is right up my alley for books I like to read. I enjoyed reading your review

  7. Thanks for the giveaway! This book sounds really good!

  8. The Secret History sounds fascinating and I can't wait to read more about Theodora!

  9. Oh I'm so interested in reading this one - I read a sample on my Kindle and it was really good. Full of the sights, sounds and smells of Constantinople. Thanks for a great giveaway!

    1. It really is so atmospheric and evokes the world/time beautifully.

  10. Theodora is new to me. Love the review...pretty sure I'd enjoy this story. Thanks.

  11. I enjoy reading about strong women from years ago since so much of history is about men.


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