Saturday 9 November 2019

#BookReview — Far Away Bird by Douglas A. Burton #HistoricalFiction #ByzantineEmpire @douglasaburton

Far Away Bird
By Douglas A. Burton

Inspired by true events, Far Away Bird delves into the complex mind of Byzantine Empress Theodora. This intimate account deftly follows her rise from actress-prostitute in Constantinople's red-light district to the throne of the Byzantine Empire.

Her salacious past has left historians blushing and uncomfortable. Tales of her shamelessness have survived for centuries, and yet her accomplishments as an empress are unparalleled. Theodora goes on to influence sweeping reforms that result in some of the first ever Western laws granting women freedom and protection. More than a millennium before the women's rights movement, Theodora, alone, took on the world's greatest superpower and succeeded. Far Away Bird goes where history classrooms fear to tread in hopes that Theodora can finally take her seat among the greatest women in history.

Theodora seems impossible--yet her transcendence teaches us that society can't tell us who we are deep down. Before there was a legendary empress, there was a conflicted young woman from the lower classes.

And her name was Theodora.

"So rapid the slide to destitution..."

So very rapid... Theodora would never forget the night her pata died. How foolish he had been. He should have stayed at home instead of joining the rebellion against the Emperor. If it had not been for Magister Origen then Theodora, her mother and two sisters would have ended up destitute.

Magister Origen had been so kind. So very thoughtful. He had even arranged for Theodora and her sister, Comito, to attend a dance school. This was not the time to look back and lament on all they had lost. The future, thanks to Magister Origen, was bright and promising.

However, underneath the painted faces and the gruelling dance lessons, there was another much darker world to the one that Theodora had been so excited to embrace. It would only be a matter of time before the real reason why Magister Origen had been so supportive, so diligent in his care, came to light. For Theodora, this terrible truth would change the course of her life forever...

From the dark days of rebellion to the awakening and cleansing of the spirit in His High Holiness, the Patriarch, Pope Timothy the Third's private chamber. Far Away Bird by Douglas A. Burton is the unforgettable story about the early and very humble life of the most influential and powerful of the Eastern Roman empresses — Theodora.

Far Away Bird is astoundingly ambitious, for Theodora's life is surrounded by historical controversy. She was a nobody, a notorious prostitute — a woman without morals or shame who somehow stole the heart of a man who would one day become an Emperor (Justinian I). Burton has taken this controversy and with a keen novelist eye for human fragility has penned a story that is not only tautly gripping but one that is utterly irresistible and impossible to put down. This book is, in all ways, an absolute triumph.

We meet Theodora as a child whose life is turned upside down by the death of her pata. Through Theodora's eyes, we watch as her life spirals out of control. The men who she meets, the things that she sees, the life that she seems to have no choice but to embrace has been diligently narrated. At times this makes for difficult reading — things happen to Theodora that is despicable, and disgusting, and vile. She is used, abused, and her spirit is crushed. Theodora becomes what these men wanted her to be. But Burton is the ideal commentator for Theodora’s tale. He takes this woman and the events that so marred her life and has given us this wonderfully brave protagonist who somehow finds the strength to claw her way out of a world of drunkenness, brothels, and promiscuity. Burton shows his readers the kind of woman Theodora was destined to become.

Theodora struggles greatly in this book, not only physically, but mentally as well. By the time this chapter, of what promises to be a rather wonderful series, closes, Theodora is only in her early twenties. So much happens to her that sometimes I found myself forgetting just how young she was. Theodora is a woman in an era where there were no women's rights, which Burton clearly demonstrates in this book. Once a fallen woman, it seemed nigh on impossible to leave that life. This is a desperate story, but the impressive narrative kept me turning those pages.

Theodora is an incredible protagonist who wears many masks to get through yet another day. Above everything else, this book is about a woman finding her way back to who she really is.

Although the world that Theodora inhabits is a bleak one, there is one shining beacon of light. From the moment he saved her family in the Hippodrome, Theodora has been in love, although she does not recognise the feeling, with Justinian. In a world where corruption and politics walk hand in hand, and everything wants something for nothing, Justinian is a breath of fresh air. Their feelings, once recognised, cannot be denied. He loves as fiercely as she does, and I am looking forward to reading more about Justinian in the upcoming books.

We meet many historical figures as the story progresses, but for me, the most memorable after Theodora is His High Holiness, the Patriarch, Pope Timothy the Third. His portrayal was absolutely sublime. Pope Timothy is a secondary character and is part of Theodora’s journey only very briefly. However, how he reacts to Theodora demonstrates how even for those who have fallen into a life of immorality, there is always hope for a better future. 

Burton stays close to the historical events of this time — the politics as well as the people that grace the pages of this remarkable novel. I must commend the historical detailing in this book. Burton has brought, not only 6th Century Constantinople back to life but also the city of Alexandria. Burton has diligently explored the poverty, the deprivation, and the desperation of those whose life revolved around the brothels, theatre, and the hippodrome. Nothing is beyond the telling. Likewise, Burton gives his readers a real understanding of time and place, and he embraces all the senses to do this. The taste, the smell, the sights of Constantinople and Alexandria have been diligently weaved into this riveting tale. I lost track of time while I read this book, and also place. I was in Constantinople with Theodora. I could see it, taste it, smell it. I felt like I was witnessing the events rather than reading about them. Far Away Bird reads like a portal through time.

Far Away Bird is a monumental work of scholarship. Burton writes with tremendous grace and authority, but above else, he has an intuitive understanding of what makes history worth reading. I cannot wait to read book two of what promises to be a shamelessly compelling series.

I Highly Recommend.

Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.

*Pre-order your copy of
Fly Away Bird
*This title will be released on February 6, 2020.

Douglas A. Burton

Douglas Alan Burton is a speaker, author, and expert storyteller whose work depicts heroic figures and their deeper connection to the human experience. Doug blogs about heroes, heroines, and villains in pop culture with some unexpected and refreshing perspective. He grew up in what he describes as “the heroic boyhood culture of late Generation X” that has gone mainstream around the world. He also shares strategies with fellow writers for writing compelling heroic characters in fiction.

Douglas recently began outlining a breakthrough storytelling model that reveals a fascinating “heroine-centric” model for story structure he calls The Heroine’s Labyrinth. He believes a powerful new archetype is emerging for women in fiction. His forthcoming novel, Far Away Bird, which centers on the early life of Byzantine Empress Theodora, won the 2019 Manuscript Content for Historical Fiction from the Writers’ League of Texas.

Connect with Douglas: WebsiteBlogTwitter.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx