Summary: 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. -- Berkley
I have been on a major historical fiction kick lately, but MISTRESS OF ROME by Kate Quinn really stood out for me. I am a huge sucker for anything having to do with ancient Rome -- I am just fascinated by the entire time period. In fact, I even took three years of Latin in high school; and I was one of those "geeks" who actually enjoyed watching I, CLAUDIUS every Friday afternoon. So when I found out that there was going to be a novel about an emperor, a slave girl, and a gladiator, I couldn't wait to read it.
MISTRESS OF ROME was such an entertaining read. Of course, I loved the backdrop of the novel and all of the history surrounding ancient Rome; however, I also found myself really enjoying the characters and their lives. This book really did have a little something that will appeal to every reader, although I thought MISTRESS OF ROME was really first and foremost, a love story with memorable characters. I couldn't help but love Thea the young slave girl and Arius the fearless gladiator -- they were almost like star-crossed lovers. But this novel also had some other terrific elements like love triangles, deception, secrets, loads of action, and even some twists and turns.
There were actually quite a few interesting characters in this story -- a few I liked and a few I hated (but I think I was supposed to!) The dynamics between the characters were what really made this book to me! There was so much desperation in the characters' actions, and almost felt as if I were watching an ancient soap opera unfold (I mean that in a good way!) In fact, I think MISTRESS OF ROME would make the perfect movie or even a mini-series because the story just lends itself to that format. But maybe I'm just thinking about how much I loved ROME on HBO and how much I miss it!
While I did feel that many of the characters were pretty complex and well developed, I found that a few of the characters were rather one dimensional. The main character that I am referring to is Lepida, the very beautiful and rich heiress. When the book starts, Thea is Lepida's slave girl; and the reader clearly sees how abusive Lepida is to Thea. Throughout the course of the novel, their paths continue to cross; and Lepida gets even more evil if that's possible. In many ways, I absolutely loved reading about Lepida and all of her dastardly deeds; however, she was almost a caricature of "bad woman" because she had absolutely no redeeming qualities. Having said all of this, I did enjoy Lepida's character and she definitely made the book more scandalous (and therefore interesting.) My issue was that I wanted to feel that she was slightly human and I never did see that in her character.
I was very impressed that MISTRESS OF ROME is Ms. Quinn's debut novel because it's definitely a winner. I was very excited to lkearn that MISTRESS OF ROME is the first book in a series -- Ms. Quinn also has two more books in the works. I can't wait to read more about these characters and ancient Rome! If you'd like to learn a little more about Ms. Quinn, check out her guest post for my Book Club Exchange feature.
I wouldn't hesitate to recommend MISTRESS OF ROME to my book group. It wouldn't be our standard pick, but I do think everyone would get caught up in the story of Thea and Arius. And it actually would make for a very fun summer selection because this book is an ideal "escape read!" There is a reading guide available with some interesting questions, and I am pretty sure that it would be a good time to discuss a few of the characters (especially the evil Lepida and Emperor Domitian.) Some of the topics for discussion include secrets, honor, fate, adultery, double standards, family dynamics, and forbidden relationships. It really is a juicy book filled with so much scandal!
MISTRESS OF ROME did not disappoint! I was hooked on this story from the get-go, and I found myself not wanting the book to end. I found the characters to be very interesting and the storyline was filled with so much drama and intrigue. MISTRESS OF ROME is guaranteed to entertain and just might be the ideal summer read!
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy of this novel.