Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Won in a giveaway at Historically Obsessed in 2010
“An exciting debut: a vivid, richly imagined saga of ancient Rome from a masterful new voice in historical fiction
Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress's rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome's newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is quickly ended when a jealous Lepida tears them apart.
As Lepida goes on to wreak havoc in the life of a new husband and his family, Thea remakes herself as a polished singer for Rome's aristocrats. Unwittingly, she attracts another admirer in the charismatic Emperor of Rome. But Domitian's games have a darker side, and Thea finds herself fighting for both soul and sanity. Many have tried to destroy the Emperor: a vengeful gladiator, an upright senator, a tormented soldier, a Vestal Virgin. But in the end, the life of the brilliant and paranoid Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor's mistress.”
I was so excited to get the chance to read this book – I have always enjoyed learning about the Ancient Romans but have only read one book previously about them (Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran). This story felt as much about Roman life as it was about the gladiatorial games. These games were at the very heart of Roman life (for the patricians as well as the plebeians) and it was great to see this so well integrated into the story. Many of the major events in the novel took place at the games and one of the main characters was himself a gladiator. It was interesting to see the different types of fights that would take place and the different weapons that they would use – I didn’t know too much about these games coming into this book (I’m pretty sure that I fell asleep during Gladiator as well!).
Beyond the games, it is very evident that the author spent much time researching Roman life in general for this book. Descriptions of clothing and architecture are explained in a very detailed manner – I could absolutely envision what they were wearing in every scene. Food descriptions were fantastic – not that I exactly knew what some of these things were, but I could see the spread well enough. The world of Rome just blossomed in my mind and came to life in vivid details.
The characters were so well crafted. All of the characters have flaws and you can really believe that these were real people – no one is truly bad or good (even the awful Emperor Domitian has some redeeming qualities!). My favorite character was Arius the Barbarian (the gladiator) – he was such a complex character, even though in the beginning you just think he is going to be a careless brute and a drunk. Some of my favorite character interactions were between Lepida Pollia and Thea. They encounter each other at various times throughout their lives and it is interesting to see who gets the upper hand each time and how they are just constant thorns in each other’s sides. The Emperor is crazy scary – I will leave it at that.
The ending of the book leaves me thinking that there will be a sequel to Mistress of Rome – there are still more stories to tell and I can’t wait to read it!
Kate Quinn also has written the prequel to Mistress of Rome, titled Daughters of Rome (released in April 2011). This book takes place during The Year of Four Emperors, which is frequently referenced in Mistress of Rome and I can’t wait to read it. You can visit Kate’s website or her blog for additional information about her books. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book? You won't be disappointed.
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