This is such a fun surprise. Having just finished Kate Quinn's "The Serpent and the Pearl," I was a little distraught about having to wait four months for her next book. The very next book I pick up from my TBR pile has Kate Quinn herself saying "Hey, this book is pretty good:" a sign from my own personal Book Oracle.
The Secret History is the story of Theodora's rise from being a dancer and sometimes-prostitute to being the Empress of the Byzantine Empire, including her travels around the ancient world. The story covers a lot of ground, and even at 455 pages, the book flies by. Friendships are made and lost, relationships built and destroyed, and all the while Theodora struggles gamely on.
Thornton does an admirable job of creating different - and evolving - relationships between her heroine and the people around her. Theodora and her sister Comito have a particularly strained relationship, pushed by jealously and broken hopes. On the other hand, Theodora strikes up an unlikely partnership with another dancer, Antonina, that follows her throughout her life, going from outright dislike to a cooler rivalry until the end of the story, when it's easy to believe the women's deep and abiding love for one another.
The biography of Theodora is itself almost enough to shatter credibility, but somehow Thornton makes most of the story work. That said, near the end of the story, there is a bit of familial melodrama that rings hollow, distracting from the real drama of the protagonist's life and attempting to drive up emotional tension. Instead, I found it only added a few pages to the volume and was relieved to see the plot get back on track.
The finale of the book is sure to pull at your heartstrings (even in my cold, reptilian heart), and you'll be sorry to say goodbye to Theodora and her world.
To sum up:
Plot? Would be ridiculous except it's based on fact.
Recommended? Yes. Yes. Yes.
For the record: the next time I see Kate Quinn quote on a book, I'm going to buy it, because she totally came through this time.
Battle of the Books on Wandering Meander: