Theophano: A Byzantine Tale

Written by Spyros Theocharis
Review by J. Lynn Else

940 – 976 CE, Constantinople. Despite her low birth, Anastasia dreams of becoming Empress. By chance, she meets the prince, and the two fall in love. But to be crowned, she must rewrite her history and her name. She becomes Theophano. When shifting alliances and political power plays pull the lovers apart, Theophano will need all her wits to out-scheme those who wish her dead.

The Byzantine era vividly comes to life in this graphic novel. The story explores the life of Theophano, a dynamic woman navigating a man’s world in order to protect herself, her children, and the Byzantine throne. The concept itself is quite intriguing. I enjoyed seeing the culture and architecture visualized.

The downside, though, is that characterization falls flat. Rarely are there internal thoughts as the plot unfolds through dialogue and narrative segues. Additionally, the art style needs maturity. Fabrics and faces are simplistic in design. The body scale is off, with heads being too large and extremities too short. Characters come across as toddler-like in many panels. While bright and well-explored, the men and women are distractingly disproportioned. The illustrator is overall very talented, but it doesn’t quite translate into the medium of graphic novelization.

I think pictorial storytelling of historical fiction is a fantastic concept. In the graphic novels I read in my younger years, the characters had strong personalities coupled with distinctive styles. Getting into Theophano’s thoughts would have been one way to immerse the reader in medieval Roman life. This book is fun and entertaining, and while it would have benefited from more professional design and greater character exploration, it is nonetheless a strongly researched, suspenseful political and family drama.