Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Book Review and Giveaway: The Eagle and The Swan by Carol Strickland


For 1,500 years she has been cruelly maligned by history. Labelled as corrupt, immoral and sexually depraved by the sixth-century historian Procopius in his notorious Secret History, the Byzantine Empress Theodora was condemned to be judged a degenerate harlot by posterity. Until now. Due to a conviction that its contents would only be understood by generations of the distant future, a manuscript that has remained unopened for a millennium and a half is about to set the record straight. It will unravel the deepest secrets of a captivating and charismatic courtesan, her unlikely romance with an Emperor, and her rise to power and influence that would outshine even Cleopatra.  This historical novel traces the love affairs, travails, machinations, scandals and triumphs of a cast of real characters who inhabit an Empire at its glorious and fragile peak.  It’s the tale of a dazzling civilization in its Golden Age; one which, despite plague, earthquakes and marauding Huns, would lay the foundation for modern Europe as we know it.

Erudition Digital | November 7, 2013 | AISN: B00GIR54MI

My Review

Carol Strickland's debut novel, The Eagle and The Swan, is about Byzantine Empress Theodora and her husband Emperor Justinian.  The story is told from the perspective of the monk Fabianus, a childhood friend of Theodora's who is called upon to write a true history of Justinian and Theodora's reign when it becomes apparent that the official history being written by Procopius may not present Theodora in a favourable light.

Theodora seems to be a popular figure to write about these days, and with good reason, as the Empress lived a fascinating life.  The Eagle and The Swan is the second novel of Theodora that I've had the pleasure to read in the past year, so I went into this book with a basic knowledge of both her life and of the time period in which she lived.  Overall, I enjoyed Strickland's interpretation of both the characters and events.  My favourite aspect of this novel was the heroine herself.  Strickland's Theodora is a smart, compassionate, and determined woman, and it is not difficult to see how she was able to rise from poverty and prostitution to become the consort of an Emperor.   Theodora never forgot where she came from, and always tried to help young women who found themselves in unfortunate circumstances.  Justinian, however, does not come across quite so well.  While Theodora cautioned a moderate approach to solving the ills of the state, Justinian continually ignored the advice of his wife and listened to his most trusted advisors, including his prefect John the Cappadocian, who resorted to extreme torture to extract money and information from people.  While Justinian is sometimes referred to as Justinian the Great, he comes across as anything but great in this novel -- although this book only covers the early years of his reign. 

The Eagle and The Swan is a long novel, but Strickland's smoothly flowing prose keeps the narrative moving along at a steady pace.  It wasn't until the final quarter of the novel, when I felt too much extraneous detail was added to the story, that I thought the narrative got somewhat bogged down.  At times some of the dialogue comes across as too modern, and the narrative does contain a couple of obvious anachronisms -- the mention of cholera, a disease not found outside of India until the 19th century, and a character's recognition of the need to boil water to avoid it, are the two that most stand out.   One element I really wish had been added to the novel was an Author's Note.   It's obvious that Strickland conducted a great deal of research in order to write this novel, but I would have appreciated a note explaining what key elements of the story are fact and which are fiction.   Regardless of these few shortcomings, the story itself is definitely an enjoyable one and I wouldn't hesitate to read more from Carol Strickland.

The Eagle and The Swan is recommended to readers interested in historical novels set in less common time periods, as well as those who enjoy novels with strong, interesting female protagonists.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Source: I received a copy of this novel as part of Carol Strickland's Virtual Book Tour in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Eagle and the Swan is currently on tour!  Click here to check out the tour schedule. 

About the Author

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.

Author Links:

Author Website | Book Website | Facebook Page | Twitter | Pinterest


I'm pleased to host a giveaway for The Eagle and The Swan.  Up for grabs are two ebook copies of the novel.  Giveaway rules are as follows:

- Open internationally;
- To enter, simply leave a comment on this post with your email address;
- One entry per person;
- The giveaway will run until midnight (EST) on April 21st, 2014.

Good Luck!

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