The Purple Shroud continues the story of the Byzantine Empress Theodora, covering her marriage to Justinian and their 20 year reign. Despite her humble beginnings, Theodora is thrust into a position of power that she could have never imagined and she takes pride in being “one of the people” and understanding their needs and moods. It is this ability to connect with the common man that makes her indispensible to Justinian – and to the empire.
Through political uprisings, a devastating fire, and an outbreak of plague that decimates the population (and nearly kills Justinian), Theodora walks a fine line between being loved by the people and being respected by the ruling class. Always the performer, she manages to pull it off with amazing skill, although there are those only too happy to remind her of where she came from. Despite outward appearances of being calm and in control at all times, Theodora often struggles with the confining nature of her position and fulfilling the expectations of others. And even though she is the most powerful woman in the empire, that power comes with a price – her freedom.
Theodora is a fascinating woman and although I may have heard of her before, I couldn’t have told you anything about her. Duffy’s vivid imagery helped to bring Theodora and the city of Constantinople to life – I would really love to go there someday! I also thought she did a great job of getting inside Theodora’s head - exploring her fears, doubts and dreams for the future. As with the first book, Theodora (which covers her early life), the focus of the story often shifts to the continuing religious debates of the time period, and although I understand it’s an important part of the history, I mostly skimmed through them (they were spread more evenly throughout the book while in Theodora a big chunk in the middle was devoted to it - so that was an improvement).
Although it’s probably not absolutely necessary to read Theodora first, it might be helpful in understanding the relationships between the characters and the reasons for some of Theodora’s actions later in life.
In case the FTC asks: copy from the publisher