Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn
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.
I will admit that when I first started to read this, I was kinda-sorta thinking I wouldn’t end up liking it. Mostly because of the relationship between Arius and Thea–I just didn’t buy into it for some reason. Thea and Arius were just a bit two-dimensional for me. Thea kept cutting herself because she felt guilty for being a survivor of a mass suicide in Masada. (Which incidentally, I know about because my parents went there this summer on their trip to Israel.) So I’m not trying to make it seem like I’m belittling Thea’s grief at surviving such a tragic event, but somehow I wish it was conveyed in different way. Arius was all grunts and no words, and just killing and hacking away at everyone; there wasn’t enough backstory for me with his character. Granted, Thea had a good and calming effect on him, but he was just all brawn for me.
But I managed to get past that and ended up really enjoying how Arius’, Thea’s, and Lepida’s lives all intersected with each other over the course of so many years. And I have to hand it to the author for writing in such great detail that did not weigh the book down.
Oh and Lepida! What a character! No redeeming quality about her. She really got what was coming to her and I like where she ended up at the end. That’s all I’ll say about that. She might have been ambitious in a very spoiled-brat and ambitious way, but I think her character developed interestingly…in the annoying way of course. But good. Does that make sense? She was smart and she knew what she wanted, but her biggest flaw was that she had no patience.
I loved learning about this part of history of Rome and how corrupt and deranged the Roman emperors were. Domitian might not have been as sick as Caligula, but he still had very disturbing qualities. Thea had the bruises and cuts to show for it.
I think it’s time for me to finally watch the Rome tv series!