Genre: historical fiction
Pages: 470 (paperback)
Published: April 2010 by Berkley Trade
Recommended for: historical fiction readers
An exciting debut: a vivid, richly imagined saga of ancient Rome from a masterful new voice in historical fiction
Mistress of Rome is epic in the best way possible. It is the sprawling story of Thea, a slave girl with a beautiful voice and a mysterious, tormented past who falls deeply in love with a gladiator, Arius, and bears his child. Thea's mistress Lepida-- possibly the most cruel, shallow, awful woman I have ever read about-- sends her away out of spite and jealously, but through a series of chance meetings and circumstances, Thea captures the intrigue of the most powerful man in the Roman world: the Emperor Domitian. Domitian's capriciousness and megalomania are as legendary as his greatness, and Thea knows she must tread carefully as the Emperor's mistress.
Meanwhile, Lepida schemes to reach the heights of Roman society even as she becomes the wife of Marcus, a noble and intellectual senator who could not be more different from the power-hungry and shallow Lepida . The gladiator Arius 'the Barbarian' fights for his life in the Arena despite his heartbreak at having lost Thea to the cruelty of fate. And Vex, Arius and Thea's son, unaware of his father's legendary greatness in the Arena, is growing up with the stubborn and foolish goal of one day becoming a gladiator himself.
This book is one bloody love story-- it perfectly brings to life the complexities of Roman patrician life as well as the struggles and horrors experienced by the gladiators, while still managing to encompass the universal pain of heartbreak and the depths of human compassion. Emperor Domitian is as intriguing as he is repulsive. My one peeve was that Thea's point of view was told from traditional first person ('I'), yet the other characters' POVs were all third-person. I would have preferred the book to be third person all the way. By the story's final pages, I was consumed by it entirely and wanted nothing more than for our heroes and heroines to get their happy ending... and for the despicable villain, Lepida, to get her just reward (seriously, she is extremely hate-able.) I definitely recommend this one, and can't wait to get my hands on the companion novel, Daughters of Rome.
Overall Rating: 5/5