Friday, May 6, 2011

Tour of Italy Review: Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Mistress of Rome
From the Back Cover:

First-century Rome: a world of depravity, blood, and secrets. The ruthless and enigmatic Emperor Domitian watches over all, fearing assassination from every direction...but not from the woman who fascinates him most.

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.

My Thoughts:

Wow, what a story! I was under its spell from the very first page, and I could not put it down, mainly because I was instantly drawn to the lead characters, Arius and Thea. They are both slaves, subject to the whims of the Roman aristocracy. They are both fighting to survive: Arius in the arena, and Thea in the service of her truly awful mistress, Lepida. I loved them both, but my heart really went out to Thea. This was my first experience with a character who cuts herself, and I was surprised to find it in a historical novel. I thought this aspect of Thea was very well written, and made a lot of sense given her history. Thea is so calm and collected, making the best of every rotten twist life throws at her, and cutting herself is the only way Thea knows how to release her anger, guilt, and disappointment. Until she meets Arius...

Arius is a wonderful character, too. Noble, honorable, and brave, but filled with seething hatred for himself and the Romans who come to watch him fight, and Emperor Domitian in particular. He's fighting dark demons, too, until he meets Thea, and discovers a new reason for living. Their love story is so simple and sweet, yet it spans a dozen years of misfortune, separation, and tragedy. As Arius continues to fight, he reluctantly becomes the darling of the arena, feeding the greedy Romans' hunger for bloodsport by day, and drinking himself into oblivion by night, all the while mocking them, disrespecting them, and making an enemy of the Emperor. Meanwhile Thea, though still a slave, finds her star rising, too, as a songbird in demand among the aristocracy. Capturing the attention of Domitian would seem like a dream come true, but it turns out to be the ultimate nightmare, and Thea finds herself fighting to survive once again. Will she make it out alive? Will she ever meet Arius again? And if she does, what will happen when he discovers the love of his life is the mistress of his greatest enemy? Well I'm not telling--you'll have to read the book to find out!

Overall, I thought this book was awesome! I've already told you how much I loved Thea and Arius, but there's also a great cast of supporting characters, and combined with a background of excellent historical detail, the city of Rome and the vices of its citizens really come to life, and become characters in themselves. My complaints are few, and the main one being that I never figured out why Lepida was so downright nasty and spiteful. I couldn't find any real motivation for her behavior, and she came across as being very one-dimensional--the convenient big, bad villain. But boy, oh boy, I hated her and couldn't wait to see her get what was coming to her!

This story is not for the faint of heart, but neither was first-century Rome, and based on other books I've read, I don't think anything Ms. Quinn has included is far-fetched or unbelievable. This book has a killer ending--those final scenes were nail-biting, gut-wrenching thrillers, and I was kept guessing until the very last page. In her author's note Ms. Quinn reveals that she will be writing a follow-up book concentrating on two of the supporting characters, and I will be the first person in line to buy it! This one has earned its spot on my keeper shelf.

My Rating:  4.5 Stars out of 5


  1. I read this a couple of weeks ago and loved it as well! I felt Lepida was a bit one dimensional also, but loved to hate her. :) Kate Quinn was nice enough to let me interview her(she talks a bit about her sequel to Mistress of Rome), if you are interested, you can check out her answers here:
    Great review!

  2. I cannot cannot wait to read this book -- I've read so many great reviews and your description of the 'killer ending' has me wiggling with excitement! EE!

  3. Loved your review of this book, I am adding it to my TBR list.

  4. I'm reading this for a book club this month. I'm so glad to see you liked it and gave it such a high rating!!

  5. I finished reading this book last week and I really really enjoyed it - for basically the same reasons you stated. I'm getting ready to start Daughters of Rome tonight and am looking forward to the future book about those two characters!

  6. This was such an amazing book I cannot wait to read Daughters of Rome and Kate Quinn's next one that I think is supposed to be about Vix. Sooo Good!


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