The Purple Shroud: A Novel of Empress Theodora. Stella Duffy. Penguin Group (USA). September 2012. 416 pp. ISBN #: 9780143122258.
Continuing the life of Theodora, Empress of Constantinople in the 6th Century, from Theodora, Actress, Empress, Whore, Stella Duffy offers the reader an inside look into leading a court and world riddled with constant change! Theodora never sought her present position, but out of love of Justinian she is determined to do her part to assist him in every possible way. This is a world where they rule at the people's pleasure and suddenly the people are not pleased, beginning a spate of time called the "Nika" in which the people riot, burn, kill and more. In this horrific period, Theodora loses her best friend, Sophia, and also loses her sense of trust in the people. For the rest of her life, she will rule with intrigue and power, using the people as they (honestly admitted) use her!
The next challenge to royalty is one that brooks no favors or sabotage, the plague, a more than formidable, terrifying disease that literally kills thousands per day. Justinian is not spared and suffers terribly yet survives because of the care of physicians who understand newer techniques of healing from the Middle East. Theodora's persistent care, even under great risk of contracting the dreaded disease, is astounding and poignant!
The vicissitudes of ruling an empire could not be better portrayed as we, the readers, read about the plots, challenges, betrayals, loyalties, and so so much more as August and Augusta (Justinian and Theodora) are motivated only by the best possible service for their country. Narses, Belisarius, the Cappadocian, as well as innumerable other powerful court woman reveal the essence of true support and fickle self-opportunism. The issues are both political and religious, but in reality power-plays direct what is publicly known and unknown. Theodora, however, is one very savvy ruler and misses nothing as her supporters assist in thwarting plots that would destroy the throne, if not the country.
Stella Duffy displays an amazing sense of each conflict in a unique manner and most of all in a graceful style that is like an Eastern dance, seductive, vividly active, enigmatic, and romantic. Because of her deft creation, we know Theodora in two novels as the intelligent, spiritual, political, comic, sexy, romantic, brutally frank, retaliating (never directly) and uniting leader. The descriptions of art and architecture, churches, food, dress, and more are stylistic and epitomize the rulers' and peoples' love of beauty.
The above is just a glimmer of the many scenes that truly honor "Theou doron" ("Gift of God") within these pages. Beautifully told, this novel is a MUST read!!! So, so well crafted, Stella Duffy!!!