BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review of The Purple Shroud: A Novel of Empress Theodora by Stella Duffy

Publisher: Penguin Books
Format Read & Source:  Trade Paperback from Penguin Books
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Buying Links:  Amazon    The Book Depository   Barnes & Noble

Book Blurb (from goodreads):  

Theodora: Actress, Empress, Whore, Stella Duffy’s chronicle of this amazing woman’s early years, delighted readers with its exquisite blend of historical detail and vivid storytelling. Now, The Purple Shroud chronicles Theodora at the height of her power, bringing the ancient world alive in another unforgettable, epic saga.

Theodora and Justinian have been crowned Emperor and Empress, but ruling an empire is no easy task. The two factions of Christianity are still battling for dogmatic supremacy, the Empire’s borders are not secure, and Theodora worries about the ambitions of Justinian’s two best generals. But the most pressing concern is close to home: Constantinople’s two factions, the Blues and the Greens, are beginning to unite in their unhappiness with rising taxes. When that unhappiness spills over into all-out violence, thousands are killed (including someone very close to Theodora) and many of the City’s landmarks are destroyed, including Theodora’s beloved Hagia Sophia. In the aftermath of the riots, Theodora guides Justinian in gaining back the love and trust of the people, her unerring instinct for what the people want proving invaluable. Justinian promises to rebuild the Hagia Sophia to be even more spectacular than before. Theodora comes to realize that being the Augusta is simply another role she must play, though the stakes are much higher and there is no offstage. It’s a role she was born to play. 

Justinian went on, ‘I will not lose you, Theodora.’
She whispered, ‘No.’
‘Nor,’ he added, loosening his grip just a little, stroking his thumb along her fingers, ‘do I want to lose you to Narses’ idea of what a good wife should be.’
‘The eunuch likes his ladies to be quiet.’
‘It was the eunuch who brought me a grown woman in the first place. We had no call for a malleable girl. Perhaps he has forgotten that. The dutiful Theodora is too placid for our Palace and, I admit, less useful. I miss my adversary, my cohort. I need your mind and your energy more than I need your wifely obedience.’
Theodora smiled then. ‘But you do require wifely obedience?’
Justinian was not smiling when he answered, ‘Yes. A little.’

Reviewed By: Bea

Bea's Thoughts:

Just as the blurb says, the first book was a marvelous blend of storytelling and historical fiction. Historical fiction is not my usual genre but the title and blurb caught my eye so I gave it a try. I was glad that I did; I didn’t want the story to end and knew I wanted more; I was delighted to hear Duffy was working on a sequel.

The Purple Shroud picks up about ten years after the first book. Justinian and Theodora’s marriage is still strong but there are problems in the empire.  The religious schisms are not lessening, there are political problems internally and externally, and even their closest advisers are a source of conflict. Theodora is less trusting than Justinian, which sometimes creates problems but Justinian is always Theodora’s first priority. Justinian values Theodora’s viewpoint and encourages her to think for herself even, and especially, when they disagree.

The first book focused on Theodora, her life, her struggles, and her emotions; this book is focused on Justinian and Theodora as a ruling couple. The story is told from Theodora’s point of view except for the very end. There’s a stronger emphasis on the religious and political struggles and oh, the political intrigue! I’m not usually a fan of books high in politics but Duffy has an engaging style and I was captivated the whole way through. Duffy doesn’t forget the personal side of Theodora’s story and she succeeds in making her real. Theodora wasn’t always likable, she made personal and political decisions that I found to swallow. In some respects, she is no longer that little girl who was an acrobat and actress, no longer the teenager who whored to provide for her family; she converted to Christianity, not out convenience but out of strong belief and those beliefs and her passion for her Church drive her actions. However, like many rulers, sometimes her religious morals are subjugated to her political beliefs and political necessity as well as her intense desire to protect Justinian. She does what she believes is necessary and believes that the end justifies the means. Her acting skills are useful as a ruler and she often thinks of her job as a role, a belief that sometimes creates problems for her.

Since this is fiction, Theodora’s emotions, motivations and behavior are a mix of fact and Duffy’s invention. Duffy does an excellent job of bringing Theodora to life and shining a light on this little known ruler. The writing is complex and the story captivating. “The Purple Shroud” is a fascinating and enjoyable blend of love story, political intrigue, and a look at early Christianity.

This review first appeared at BookTrib.

I received this book for review from the publisher.


  1. I'll have to look up the first book the next time I'm in the mood for a historical.

    I like the tag line, it does get your attention, reminds me a bit of the show Secret Diary of a Call Girl (although I would not recommend that book).

    1. If you do read it, stop back by and let me know what you thought.


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