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Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Genre: Historical Fiction

Copyright: 2010

Pages: 470

Rating: 3.5/5 Crowns

Source: Review copy from publisher

Synopsis (from Amazon): 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: Set in late first century Rome during the reign of Titus Flavius Domitianus (referred to as Domitian), Mistress of Rome revolves around the fictional Thea and those who come in and out of her life. Thea is likeable enough with a strong survival instinct and her path from slave to mistress of the emperor is an interesting and sometimes disturbing one. Quinn uses a combination of first (Thea and her b*tch of a mistress Lepida) and third person narration. At times the switch between first and third person was a little confusing and the transitions were not always smooth, but for the most part it didn’t bother me.

The first third or so of the book was a little slow – I kept trying to figure out where the story was going and I even considered not finishing it. But I’m glad I kept reading and thought the second half was much stronger with a more exciting plot as the storylines begin to intersect and Thea becomes entangled in political intrigues as she tries to save herself and her family. Emperor Domitian was apparently somewhat of a psychopath and although Quinn alludes to his fondness for playing games with people (both physically and mentally), she avoids going into graphic detail. The same can not be said for her treatment of “the games” of which the Romans were apparently so fond, both as “entertainment” and as social events. The gladiator games are vividly described with a pretty good dose of blood, gore and violence (although a guy might not think it so bad!) but understanding the life of the gladiator is important to understanding some of the characters relationships.

As indicated in her “Historical Note”, Quinn based several of her fictional characters on people who really existed but who were either nameless to history or very little was probably known about them. A list of characters is included in the back of the book but I wish it had been in the front since I didn’t realize it was there until I was almost finished. Despite the slow start, I thought Mistress of Rome was an entertaining read and it’s nice to get out of England once in a while!

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fredamans said...

This is one that I have seen around the blogosphere, and after reading a few reviews, including yours, I'm keen on reading it.
Great review!

Falling Off The Shelf said...

Looks very interesting, one more book to add to my wishlist. I'm quickly becoming a big fan of Historical Fiction.

Dwayne said...

I don't know or understand why I tend to shy away from historical fiction, but here I am knowing this one's a worthy yet and still a little doubtful as to getting this one or not >.<

Daphne said...

fredamans and Falling Off the Shelf - if you decide to read it, I hope you enjoy it.

Dwayne - historical fiction is a great way to lose yourself in another time and learn something as well. I've learned a lot about history this way (and I love to follow it up with some relatednon-fiction).

Annie - Princess of the Past said...

Thanks for your review. I definitely think I'll end up reading this one for the cover alone ;-)

Muse in the Fog said...

This was such a great book to get lost in, I absolutely loved it! I completely agree...it was a nice vacation away from England :)

Alaine - Queen of Happy Endings said...

This is such a beautiful cover and I often find that historicals can be on the slow side to get going, but they are generally worth it. Great review!

Anonymous said...

Have seen this book mentioned on several sites. For the most part the comments have been positive. The cover is lovely and would attract readers who don't normally read out of the England/Regency box of historicals. You are right, it is nice to get out of England once in a while.
Thank you for mentioning the "Historical Note" and the list of characters in the back of the book. Handy. You are the first reviewer I've seen mention it.

Daphne said...

Annie and Alaine - I really loved the cover as well. It's one of the things that made me want to read it!

Muse - I'm glad you liked it!

LibraryPat - I really appreciate it when authors include historical notes, character lists and maps - they help keep everything straight!