Date of Publication: April 6, 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.
Review:The best part about reading is that every now and then, one unknowingly delves into a masterpiece. It's exciting, exhilarating and one of the best feelings. That is my experience with Mistress of Rome. It took me several minutes to read one page because I wanted to absorb every word and enjoy every page. It kept me up to the wee hours of the night and excited for the morrow so I could continue reading.
This is an adult historical fiction, a little out of my genre, but it's still really relatable. The main character, Thea starts out as 15 years old and grows as the book progresses, but never so drastically that she leaves the reader behind.
The historical aspect was impeccably written. Kate Quinn obviously researched everything extensively. Her portrayal of Rome was perfect. I can easily imagine the hustle and bustle of the ancient city, the slaves, the nobel ladies in their litters and the common folks. All the historical characters were realistically recreated, especially Domitian. He terrified and fascinated me. Truly a man who saw himself as a Lord and God.
Mistress of Rome also contains multiple narratives, something I'm a little iffy about, but there was nothing iffy about this book. The multiple narratives helped me bond better with some characters and further root for others' demise (cough, Lepida). There is a throng of fantastic characters in this book. Everyone from Senator Marcus Norbanus to the slave Genymede, were so interesting to read about; I shared their pains and victories.
Despite this book being more of an ensemble piece, it did have a spotlight couple, my favourite Thea and Arius the Barbarian. These two were so perfect. They understood each other in a way that others didn't. Their love story was one of the main plot lines, though not the only one. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.
Another thing that really stood out to me was the gladiators. Gladiators are one of the most well known figments of Roman history. Arius is a britannic gladiator, the best gladiator. It was really interesting to see the world through Arius' eyes, he is a slave but so many people's hero. Vix, a little slave boy actually wanted to be a gladiator because they were the superstars of the Romans. It was really interesting to read about the riots and graffiti that preceded the games, very similar to today and modern sports. That says something about people.
My review does not do this book enough justice. Just know that when I went out with my family and stopped by Chapters, I bee-lined my way to the adult section so I could sneak in a little bit of reading. To me this was the perfect historical fiction. It had everything I wanted, action, drama, intrigue, romance, politics and gladiators!