Friday, April 11, 2014

G278 E-reading Book Review of The Eagle and the Swan by Carol Strickland

Name of Book: The Eagle and the Swan

Author: Carol Strickland


Publisher: Erudition Digital

Type of book: Late 400s-530s? Greece, Thrace, Empire, Byzantium, christianity, loyalty, religion, ruling, portents, struggle, from low class to high class, romance, marriage, obsession

Year it was published: 2013


This historical novel tells the story of one of the most maligned--and significant--figures of the Late Roman Empire, Empress Theodora of 6th-century Constantinople. Born the circus bear-keeper's daughter, she was a burlesque dancer, actress and courtesan before she began her escape from the gutter. Through her beauty and brilliance, she attracted the interest of a young soldier, himself born a peasant. Justinian was as ambitious and driven as Theodora. Together, they shook up not only the staid aristocrats of Byzantium but the entire Roman Empire.
The tale, based on historical sources, recounts their struggles, passions, enemies, and accomplishments. Even today, the jury is out on Theodora. Because their court historian Procopius painted her and Justinian as the blackest sinners--degenerate, lustful, and corrupt--the shining Golden Age they created was seen as debauched and rotten. The novel tells another side of their story in all its complexity, strengths and weaknesses.


I have to admit that I was really impressed with the characters and they are drawn very well in my opinion. I really enjoyed Theodora, an actress turned empress who has a giving heart, selfless and obstinate as well as dramatic and is determined to escape her former life. Theodora herself isn't perfect and she does make tragic mistakes as well. Justinian, best to describe, has an obsession of becoming immortal and he is very zealously pious and religious as well as stubborn at a cost of everything. He also has risen far, from pig-herder to an Emperor of Byzantium. Other characters include nobility which look down on them and supposedly a lot of them used Procopius to tell tales and anecdotes which make up The Secret History. Procopius, John of Cappadochia, Tribon and other nobility are portrayed very badly as well as immoral and sinful. I was also shocked by the stories that were written about John's orgies and so forth.


Listen to both sides of the story instead of just one. Don't carried away and don't give up.


The book is written in a mix of first and third person narrative points of views because most of the story is from Justinian and Theodora while a lot of it is also of the recorder named Fabianus. While from beginning to almost the end the book and the author really hold the tension as well as point of view correctly, I have to admit that towards the end it seemed as if the author has forgotten that Fabianus is the one writing the story, not Theodora or Justinian. I also enjoyed watching the breakdown of the empire, and I felt that the book has given a lot of wonderful lessons to think over, such as not being overly religious or devoted, and to choose battles carefully and listen to dissenters.

Author Information:
Carol Strickland is an art and architecture critic, prize-winning screenwriter, and journalist who’s contributed to The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Art in America magazine. A Ph.D. in literature and former writing professor, she’s author of The Annotated Mona Lisa: A Crash Course in the History of Art from Prehistoric to Post-Modern (which has sold more than 400,000 copies in multiple editions and translations), The Annotated Arch: A Crash Course in the History of Architecture, The Illustrated Timeline of Art History, The Illustrated Timeline of Western Literature, and monographs on individual artists.
While writing on masterpieces of Byzantine art (glorious mosaics in Ravenna, Italy featuring Theodora and Justinian and the monumental Hagia Sophia basilica in Istanbul built by Justinian), Strickland became fascinated by the woman who began life as a swan dancer and her husband, an ex-swineherd.
Knowing how maligned they were by the official historian of their era Procopius, who wrote a slanderous “Secret History” vilifying them, Strickland decided to let the audacious Theodora tell her story. She emerges not just as the bear-keeper’s daughter and a former prostitute who ensnared the man who became emperor, but as a courageous crusader against the abuse of women, children, and free-thinkers.

Author Links


Years back, I took a class in Roman Empire history, and yes, I did read Procopius's Secret History, (although for the life of me, I wish to recall more of it instead of bare snippets,) thus I do have some familiarity with Justinian and Theodora, although they were maligned by history. I was pretty impressed with the setup and how Theodora and Justinian were presented (towards the end I wanted to throttle Justinian countless times for being so obstinate and stubborn) but what sort of bothered me a bit is the logic in beginning, when Justinian decrees that the chronicle will not be opened for the next 1,500? years. One thing I started to wonder is why and how do they know that modern readers will look at them with admiration and pity? (Considering there are so many portents and fortunes in the book, it might help if Justinian or someone close saw perhaps multitude of eagles flying, or something of the kind which would help come up with so many years.) And also, how did the copy survive if people were forbidden to look at it? (For thousands of years until late 15th century, monks had to read and copy things by hand.) Besides that, I really loved the detail as well as stories and events that went into the telling and creating the rich personages of Theodora, Justinian and their families, friends and enemies.

Quick Notes: This is for Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Thursday, March 13
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Monday, March 17
Review at Reading the Ages
Wednesday, March 19
Review at Unabridged Chick
Thursday, March 20
Interview & Giveaway at Unabridged Chick
Monday, March 24
Interview & Giveaway at The Maiden’s Court
Tuesday, March 25
Spotlight & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Wednesday, March 26
Guest Post at Kelsey’s Book Corner
Monday, March 31
Review & Giveaway at Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, April 2
Review at Book Drunkard
Friday, April 4
Review at Just One More Chapter
Monday, April 7
Review & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Obsession
Wednesday, April 9
Review & Giveaway at Confessions of an Avid Reader
Thursday, April 10
Review & Giveaway at Curling Up By the Fire
Friday, April 11
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, April 14
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Tuesday, April 15
Guest Post & Giveaway at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, April 16
Review & Giveaway at Broken Teepee

Thursday, April 17
Guest Post & Giveaway at Historical Fiction Connection

4 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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