50 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Kate Quinn pens an outstanding piece of historical Roman fiction with this outstanding novel. At times a historical romance and at others a first-century political thriller, "Mistress of Rome" is at its core a story of two parallel lives: Lepida Pollia, the spoiled daughter of an ascendant-aristocratic father and her slavegirl, Thea, one of the few survivors from the siege of the Jewish fortress at Masada.
Despite the two young women's differences in social standing, Thea is quickly vying with her mistress for the affections of the barbarian gladiator Arius, and infuriates the young patrician by her success with the fighter. Sold to appease Lepida's wrath, Thea embarks on a road that will take her down an even darker path than through the barracks of the arena, with the only key to her freedom lying in the hands of the emperor, Domitian. But Domitian has a dark side, and a woman from Thea's past envies her position at the emperor's side.
Clever weaving of historical fact, "facts" gleaned from ancient authorship, and original invention makes this a compelling read; historical inaccuracy is minimal and employed for story purposes rather than out of error. The Domitian-era setting was a refreshing one; this is one of the few high-imperial novels that I have come across.
Recommended for readers looking for character-driven plot and excellent development; the heroes and their supporting castmembers are endearing and sympathetic.
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
I noticed many reviewers here on Amazon say that Mistress of Rome is a "fun" read. I wouldn't use the word fun. Gripping, yes, dramatic, yes, brutal and sad , yes. It's a good book but when you have a story where the two main characters are a 14 Year old slave (who is abused by her mistress and is forced to sleep with her master at 14) and the "hero" is a Gladiator who also has had a brutal life as a slave before being bought to become a gladiator-well, you are not going to get sunshine and rainbows. But you will get an honest portrayal of life in ancient Rome.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 2010
Series: Not a series but the author is working on companion novels (a prequel and a sequel).
Genre: Historical Fiction/Historical Romance
© April 2010, Berkeley Trade
Kate Quinn's Website
Rating: 5 stars
Available wherever books are sold!
This is the debut of, whom I foresee, to be the next New York Times Bestselling author: Kate Quinn. Mistress of Rome is a fast-paced, emotionally charged, sensual exploration of life in Ancient Rome during the reign of Emperor Domitian. From the first page to the last the reader is instantly embroidered into a world of emotion, sensuality, and political intrigue.
The plot of this story centers around a slave girl, Thea, and her transgression through Roman life. Thea is last survivor of the siege of the Jewish fort of Masada in Israel. Lepida, Thea's mistress (owner), is one of those characters you love to hate. Lepida has a liking to three things: money, power, and men. Arius, is a gladiator (a very successful gladiator) who Lepida decides to target as her next play thing. One problem. Arius and Thea, fall in love. Lepida quickly finds out and sells Thea to a whore house, separating Thea and Arius.
Thea is pregnant and is to sold to a musician who trains her to sing and play the lyre. As her fame grows Thea catches the eye of the emperor. The emperor is intrigued by Athena, Thea's stage name, and deems her his mistress thus beginning her journey as The Mistress of Rome.
The characters in this book are so realistic. The whole way you feel their angst, their pain, and their lust. You grow to love them and some you grow to hate. In the first chapter of the book we find out that Thea cuts herself in order to escape the tragedy of her life through physical pain, every time she does it you want to be there with her to take the knife away and reassure her. When her and Arius get torn apart your heart aches for the separated lovers.
Speaking of lovers...Thea and Arius are amazingly compatible. Both were taken from their homeland to serve as slaves for the Roman empire. Both are damaged emotionally beyond all belief. Both are undeniably in love with the other. The best part of their romance was that it wasn't the run-of-the-mill romance. There were years when the two didn't even see, hear, speak of each other, they slept with other people, Thea sleeps with EMPEROR OF ROME, and yet still their love holds strong. Their romance is tragic, its believable, its heartbreaking, and its real. I was rooting for them all the way, even more than 2 millennia later.
The other two characters I have to mention are Lepida and Emperor Domitian. They will intrigue you, they'll make read over a page again for you to actually believe another human being would do/say what they just did. These two helped make this book one of my new favorites. Lepida and Domitian made Mistress of Rome a realistic possibility of Ancient Rome and not a unbelievable historical fantasy.
Kate Quinn wrote one of the best books I've read in a long time. I still find myself thinking about the characters and their lives now and then and I finished the book a month ago. An author that can compel readers to think about their book so long after wards is as amazing, if not more, than the book they wrote. Her characters were realistic, whether they be good or evil, they were real. Her plot was intriguing and gripping from page one to the final word. Her writing was flawless, with amazing descriptions of Ancient Rome you were transported to her world.
Who do I recommend this book to? Everyone. Even if your not a fan of historical romance you'll love this book. A warning though...it is graphic and there is adult content but its totally worth the read.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2011
I really wanted to like this book. As a huge reader of historical fiction and general romance, the story line and first paragraph drew me in.
Then I had to struggle to stay with it.
The constantly changing first person points of view to me were distracting, particularly when the sub heading to show who was speaking was a few pages ago, and while the characterization is strong, the two female leads are so similar in manner of speech and thought (very dark), I often had to stop to really consider who was speaking and found it distracting.
By the time a character entered that I could relate to and lightened the mood somewhat, I was exhausted from the depths of despair the main characters constantly live in and having been in their heads for so long in that rotating first person POV.
The historical inaccuracies to that point were distracting as well. While they may have been made to fit the story, I would rather the story have fit the known facts of that era though this may not bother the general reader.
Where I finally gave up midway through, and I rarely leave a book unfinished, was when the author chose to have the gladiator take in a wounded female dog and name her after his lost love in what I felt to be so over the top symbolic and predictable I couldn't continue anymore.
Which I found very sad, because in a few places of dialogue I see Kate Quinn's brilliance, and one particular passage of narrative covering Arius's months of street fighting was so strong and powerful, evoking emotion on a level not usually found by a first time author.
I would have liked more of that, and a few moments of comedy relief thrown in, and hope her sequel releasing in a few months accomplishes that.
32 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on November 13, 2011
A friend recommended this book to me, and I really wanted to like it. However, I hated, hated, hated this book. It was trite, dull, with cliched characters in cliched situations acting unbelievably. I really can't say anything nice about it at all.
If you know Roman historical fiction tropes, "Mistress of Rome" has a familiar plot. Thea, the Jewish slave girl of the slutty mean girl Lady Lepida, falls in love with the studly Celtic barbarian gladiator Arius. When finding out that the gladiator is more interested in her slave than her, Lepida sells Thea to a whorehouse; but Thea, after bearing Arius's son, becomes a popular singer and finds her way into the bed of the insane emperor Domitian, and ends up becoming part of the plot to kill him. But familiar does not mean bad-- this could have been as sexy and exciting as Jeanne Duval's "The Ravishers," which I loved. But "Mistress" failed to deliver the goods. The action scenes were laughable, and the sex scenes were almost non-existent. In fact, it felt a bit like a PG-13 version of "Gladiator," as directed by Ken Russell and written by a third-rate YA author overly fond of sentence fragments.
It's muddled and confusing, with overblown, hackneyed language, with head-hopping and confusing POV shifts. It jumps willy-nilly from first person to third and back again, usually within the same chapter. It was a struggle to keep up with who was who and what was what-- I practically was getting whiplash from the bizarre tonal shifts, from Regency-lite banter to massive death & destruction in the arena scenes, which tried to be "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" but ended up being more like a Meatloaf video with more gore. If that's not cheesy enough, there are even several examples of a big NOOOOO a la Darth Vader in "Revenge of the Sith." Really-- someone is killed, and a character cries out "NO!!")
There are also scenes clearly meant to be Deep, but they are so over the top as to be embarrassing. There is in fact a scene early on where Arius the Hunky Barbarian Gladiator fights a bunch of amazons in the arena and kills them while screaming wordlessly to the sky and being showered with thousands of rose petals. I laughed so hard reading this... It reminded me of something from a bad anime. The only thing lacking was a flock of disturbed doves flying past and crashing into a stained-glass window.
Arius doesn't change much throughout the course of the story; he remains a rage battery, though he does lose his virginity. (Yeah.) The characters are, pretty much, flatter than matzo. They all die in droves, but given how they all read the same, it was hard for me to care.
The character of Thea, the heroine, is especially insulting. Her Jewishness is treated more like an accessory than anything else-- in fact, she acts like a weird cross between a Regency bluestocking and an emo chick, as she's always cutting herself. Ms. Quinn describes in her afterword that she wishes to convey Thea's "survivor's guilt," but it comes across as really modern, as if Thea blogs angstily on her Livejournal whenever she has a bad day. She keeps talking about suicide, and how she should kill herself, like her sister at Masada-- ignoring the fact that suicide is not considered a good thing in Judaism. (The zealots who committed suicide at Masada were a fringe sect-- most Jews at the time felt saddened that they felt it necessary kill themselves.)
As a matter of fact, in "Mistress of Rome," the handling of Jewish themes is so tone-deaf as to be offensive. Quinn manages to butcher the Hebrew of the Shema, which Thea says after slicing her wrists open yet again. She says: "She'ma Yisroel, Adonai Aloujanou, Adonai echod."
But the proper Hebrew is: "Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echoed."
Now, "Adonai Eloheinu" means THE LORD OUR GOD. What the hell does 'ALOUJANOU' mean? And WHY is she saying the Shema after cutting her wrists? The Shema Yisrael is one of the most sacred and important prayers in Judaism; it is supposed to be said twice daily as a mitzvah; it is usually said at sundown. It is unbelievably inappropriate for this chick to be saying this after an emo cutting attempt. But we're led to believe that it's cool and deep and meaningful that she's doing this.
There is also not a word said about the prohibitions about eating pork or shellfish, or any other dietary restrictions for that matter-- it is completely ignored, which is weird since not eating pork was considered one of the major hallmarks of Judaism to the Romans, and to the later medieval Christians as well.
Thea also apparently thinks God is transgender. At one point she says "He is male and female both." This would have been considered blasphemy-- such an idea did not even exist at the time. (Even Jewish people now don't believe that.)
Also, she says she's afraid of God, and he's the only one in her heart, but this doesn't stop her from worshipping every god in Rome, going to see witches and fortune-tellers, and banging any number of uncircumcised gentiles. It's not that she doesn't care, or that she's angry at God, or she's rebelling against her Jewish upbringing. You see, that might make sense. She never shows shame or guilt for her actions; and we never get any reason for why she's acting in a way that would be considered anathema to any first century Jew, or why she's blissfully breaking so many of God's commandments. Apart from the whole 'I'm alive, while my family is dead, so I'm cutting myself wanting to die," the dilemma of her identity washes over her as easily as Diet Coke.
I would imagine a character in Thea's position, a Jewess immediately post-Diaspora, who is so affected by the death of her family at Masada, would be suffering a massive existential crisis. But Thea is so utterly shallow that there's no room for anything that interesting. She makes no attempt at actual worship; there's not a word said about keeping the Shabbat or any of the high holy days. She even makes no attempt to meet and befriend any other Jew, and there were plenty in Rome at the time. As written, she's pretty much a brainless whore who sells out her own heritage. She's held up as the heroine against the Evil!Slut Lepida who's the villain, but honestly Thea disgusted me as much her ex-mistress. A smart, honest whore like Ros from "Game of Thrones" who made no bones about what she was and actively pursued what she wanted, would have been welcomed. But Thea is a pretentious, passive hypocrite. She claims to love God but worships foreign gods without a second thought; and she blames the emperor for turning her into a whore, but she didn't really need his help, as she had been one for many years previously. She even screws Arius for the first time on the street (and I don't mean against a doorway or in an alley, like in "Girl with a Pearl Earring," but I mean on the ground, ON THE STREET) which was... just, ew. (Even Ros would have had more self-respect than that.)
The emperor himself is supposed to be evil, an abusive, sadistic heavy; but honestly he's just the dullest evil emperor I've ever seen. In fact, he even starts out as an emotionally distant but reasonably pleasant lover. Ten pages later he does an about-face and becomes Mr. Evil, and he beats up Thea during sex. At least, this is what I think what happens, because it's written in such a fragmented and elliptical way I'm reminded of bad beatnik poetry. Thea of course suffers beautifully and cuts herself more. As you do...
The emperor is also supposed to be anti-Semitic, because he makes a lot of snide "You Jews" type remarks. But the story itself verges on anti-Semitism when Thea herself says such things like: "For a man who hated Jews, Domitian certainly had a streak of Hebrew vengefulness."
This is pretty much touching on blood libel nonsense, in calling up images of vindictive, evil Jews, in what is from the viewpoint of a supposedly Jewish character. Especially given Thea's past, and that she is thinking about a man who is now her enemy, it is a disturbing comparison, and especially given the clumsy, ignorant way that Jewish culture is portrayed in this book, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
Even apart from the whole ungodly mess that is the portrayal of Judaism in this novel, the world-building is still really problematic-- and that's being generous. Now, a book doesn't have to be historically accurate to work. "Enslaved" by Cassandra Dean was a solid read, and that had few problems with its historicity. But "Enslaved" was, most importantly, internally consistent. "Mistress of Rome" is not.
There's so much in this book that makes no sense. Arius the gladiator is from the land of the Brigantes in north Britain, which he boasts has air that "no Roman has ever breathed." But then he turns around and says that he grew up in Brigantia, next to a Roman fort. Soooo... doesn't that mean that Romans had therefore breathed air in Brigantia? (At the time this book is set, there was also a huge war going on between the Romans and the Brigantes, a fact which is never mentioned.)
And there's also huge jumps in logic, when Thea, when she's Evil!Slut Lepida's body slave, is given an amazing amount of freedom to wander around the city and make her own money busking. She clearly hates her mistress, and she's sleeping with this Arius guy. Why doesn't she just escape? She has plenty of opportunity! But no.. she just hangs around, until her mistress finds out that she's seeing this gladiator and she's sold to a brothel. While in the brothel, she gives birth to Arius's son, but her pimp (who never has a scene or is introduced, not even in flashback) tries to abort the kid with herbal stuff, but gives up once that doesn't work. In timeless pimp fashion, why doesn't he punch her in the stomach repeatedly until she miscarries? That's what pimps do. Why is he behaving so nicely? Other than that's what's in the script?
There are so many examples like this... where the characters act stupidly and illogically, just to keep the plot going. The fact that the POVs keep jumping around, often skipping key events, adds to the whole muddle of the plot.
In regards to the tonal shifts (more like tonal earthquakes), the dialogue jumps from a Regency historical tone, to more Epic Speak, to slangy Laverne and Shirley type lingo ("whoa! Oh... whoa!" "Scram!" and most excitingly... "she's a b*tch on wheels"). At first I was keeping track of all the stupid ahistorical crap, like the conservatories, polished steel mirrors, and magnolia hair oil, among things. But I stopped caring after a while, since the book was so grueling for me to read.
I wish I could say something better, as this book has been generally well reviewed, but I really didn't enjoy this. It was bad enough with the dull, confusing plot, shallow characters and mess of POVs, but the treatment of Judaism pushes this book into an F grade for me. Screwing up the first line of a prayer as famous as the Shema is an unforgivable mistake.
There's not much more that I can say, except-- avoid this book like a plague of locusts.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2010
As a reader who has just finished reading this book, I for one look forward eagerly to the sequel hinted at at the end of the book. This is a gripping, enjoyable read but I for one cannot call it 'fun' as other reviewers have done. What permeates the prose throughout is a gritty, no-nonsense, realistic view of Ancient Rome in all of its depravity and cruelty, which makes this reader for one wonder if human nature under the veneer of modern civiisation has really changed.
What first strikes the reader is the initial youth of the main characters, thrown into a brutal adult world well before their time. Thea is a Jewish slave girl of 14 who has had more than her fair share of hard knocks. She was one of a handful of survivors from the famed assault on Masada where the besieged Jews committed mass suicide rather than be captured; her deep emotional scars from this traumatic event sees her routinely cut herself in a ritualistic blood letting. She initially is the property of the spoiled, selfish and spiteful Roman girl Lepida Pollia (also 14) and seems destined to spend her wretched life being bullied and brow beaten by her shrewish young mistress - but a chance meeting with an up and coming young gladiator, the Briton Arius, spawns a deep love that will span their lifetime. Lepida, meanwhile, marries the decent and highly respectable senator Marcus Norbanus who is many years her senior, with an eye to her advancement on the social scale. Norbanus (initially!) has no idea of his young wife's true character or the eventual strife she will bring him.
When the jealous Lepida discovers their relationship and in a fit of pique sells Thea to a brothel, the relationship seems to come to an end. But Thea is a survivor and fortune sees her sold yet again, this time to a kindly owner who recognises and fosters her musical talent. Reborn as Athena, singer and lyre player, Thea becomes a fashionable and highly sought after celebrity in high Roman society and takes the fancy of the Emperor Domitian. But being the imperial mistress to the dangerous, volatile and unpredictable Domitian is fraught with danger and Thea very quickly realises the hellish existance she must now endure. As she treads an eggshell cracking existance through the snakepit of the Roman court, Domitian imagines enemies and intrigues on every side and no-one is safe - little realising that through his cruelty and his vices the greatest threat to his life is now the woman everyone calls the Mistress of Rome.
What stood out for this reader especially in this book, apart from the horrendous spectacles of the arena which Ms Quinn describes in harrowing depth, is the claustrophobic atmosphere of the imperial circle she so vividly portrays. Her prose is sharp and detailed and I guarantee any reader will not be bored as this book certainly commands the attention. It is, however, not for the squeamish or the politically correct and this reader for one certainly had a distinct feeling of disquiet that such inhumanity towards both animals and humans could exist or even be so encouraged as it once was. Arius the gladiator personifies the deep hatred so many of the powerless slave underclass must have had towards their masters - despite his loathing of the arena and all it stands for, his own savage survivor's instinct and lethal skill sees him become an adored celebrity, feted and admired. Read this book and enjoy it for what it is - a savage, gripping treatise on a (thankfully!) vanished but not forgotten bloody era.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2011
As a theologian, first-century historian, and voracious reader, novels seldom cross my desk. But there was something compelling about this title. I bought it and tossed it for a later time, which came several months later. So I started reading, expecting to be finished after a chapter, but I found such great story lines even from the first, and such historical accuracy (through which is weaved a most enticing tale), that I honestly could neither put it down nor see forward to its end. If you know your Roman history and how the Nazorean (proto-Christian) Jewish movement that so affected it (by the end of the first century AD), you will enjoy this book all the more; most of your favorite historical characters of that time are in there, including reference to a couple of my favorites - Titus Flavius Clemens and Flavia Domitilla. Kate says she always wanted to write about Gladiators, and with this first book on the subject she has set the stage what I hope will be a prequel and at least a sequel. Dr. Jackson Snyder, Netzari Yahad Movement [...].
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on June 23, 2012
A nicely ambiguous title for a debut novel by Kate Quinn, which deals with two young women - mistress and maid - and what becomes of them. Fourteen-year-old Lepida Pollio is a beguiling beauty whose father wants her to marry well. Fifteen-year-old Thea (not her real name) is her maid. Thea has already seen more than a person should in one lifetime. Nevertheless she sets herself to please her new mistress.
She is not successful. This well-plotted novel takes us on quite a journey as over the next 15 years both women come to wield power and be thrown into the gutter. Set in Rome during the years of the Emperor Domitian, this impressively-researched novel will give you a picture of Rome that goes beyond the rhetoric of grandeur into its nasty, seedy underbelly. I loved this novel for its well-rounded characters, its un-obvious plot-lines and its gritty reality. Five stars.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 30, 2010
This book can empirically claim its place alongside the magna -grand scale productions such as Marc Antony and Cleopatra, Caesar, Samson and Delilah...you see where I'm going with this- The Big Screen. I was completely enraptured. Paramount are you reading this?
I don't think I've ever read a book where the story manages to clench my insides and get to that part of my gut where just a tad more would be enough to... and then stops- to just about where I've had as much as I can take. Mistress of Rome takes you there. Kate Quinn knows exactly how much we can handle-right upto that very point where you must exhale, to then weave the story into bliss.
In this grand novel, the crude is mirrored and diminished by the grand and triumphant splendour of love and tenderness. That being said, Mistress of Rome is also about power, vice, history, raw times and treachery. There's struggle with moral issues, psychological afflictions and disturbances, scheming ascensions, spectacular gladiator triumphs- and yes, along with it all, as expected in decadent and barbaric Rome, alot of gore, as well. Too much to handle? No, everything is given in just the right dose and is not focal to the magnitude of the story itself. Quinn is spectacular at her craft.
The story is told through the perspective of important characters - principally, Thea, the unattainably invincible Jewish slave (gentleness and sorrow behind a stony facade- I loved her!); the harsh and brutally scheming Lepida (I'm still disgusted...), and Julia, the vestal virgin (my soul cried out for her...). I know that the shifting character perspective is not a favourite with many- but for me, I believe that this actually enhanced the plot, helping to render an excellent story. I loved getting into their heads. Quinn did an all-around amazing job with this superb novel.
And so what about gladiators? In this book you'll meet Arius-an indestructible powerhouse who bows down to no one-not even the Emperor. The 'Barbarian', they called him- He lives up magnificently to the legend rather than the name. As for the Emperor, who delighted in taunting in his sick pathetic and torturing ways, well, let's just say that all those worthy of time spent serving him for pleasure and for vice, would ultimately reach their time for vengeance...
Ahhh, there is so much to this novel that I just cannot do it justice with one simple review. If you love all that is of the ancient world- you need to read this. Mistress of Rome gets as crudely descriptive (though in good taste- yes in this novel it's possible!) as you'd imagine; while being as tender as you'd dream it could be- all that and more.
One word: Colossal
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2011
Just finished reading this book and what I can say is... Rome is another subject and the history of Rome is something completely unknown to this book.
The plot is predictable, one you can find in a Harlequin book and the historical background is totally wrong and messed.
Yes, it is true that Emperor Domitian was muredered in a conspiration (like many Roman Emperors) but:
a) The young boy Vix is hinted to be THAT Vercingetorix but nope, the real Vercingetorix lived when Julius Caesar was conquering Gallia, which means a good 100 years before Domitian's rulership and nope, he was not the son of a Brigantian gladiator and a Jewish singer.
b) Also Vibia Sabina is said to have a bright future ahead. Well, we have a Vibia Sabina... she was Emperor Hadrian's wife but also the daughter of consul Lucius Vibius Sabinus so nothing to do with a certain Norbanus.
c) Trajan succeeded Emperor Nerva but never served under an unknown praetorian.
d) Flavia Domitilla and Julia of course weren't step daughters or, given they had common father, they would have bore both the Flavian name (this is something everyone writing histories set in Roman times know).
I might go on and on but I think that these glaring blunders are enough to understand the overall quality of the book.