Monday, 8 August 2011

Mistress of Rome

Author: Kate Quinn
Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Paperback
Pages: 466
First Published: 2010
First Line: "I opened my wrist with one firm stroke of the knife, watching with interest as the blood leaped out of the vein."

Synopsis: "Mistress of Rome" tells the stories of two girls in first century Rome. Thea is a young Jewish slave who is bought for a spoiled and spiteful Roman teenager, Lepida Pollia. Even though the two 14 year old girls come from very different backgrounds they soon find themselves vying for the attention and affection of Arius the Barbarian, the newest and most lethal Gladiator in Rome.

As Thea and Arius become closer, Lepida becomes more and more infuriated and finds a way to separate the lovers just as Thea begins to finally find happiness with the gladiator. Lepida sells Thea to a slave owner far away leaving Thea with no possible way to get back to Arius. For years Thea tries to piece her life back together by becoming a popular singer for Roman aristocrats.

Meanwhile, Lepida is stuck in a loveless marriage to a much older man who she only views as a stepping stone in her goal for more fortune and popularity among Roman high society. Lepida sets her sights high ... on the Emperor of Rome, Domitian. Unfortunately for Lepida, she learns that Thea has beaten her to the Emperor and has become his mistress. Regrettably, Thea soon learns that being the Mistress of Rome has a very serious downside.

My Thoughts: This was one of those 'Oooo, pretty cover' kind of books that I picked up at the library. I was hankering for a historical fiction read and ancient Rome seemed like a great place to read about especially since Brad and I took a trip to Rome four years ago (which we LOVED!!!).

This was Kate Quinn's debut novel and I have to say that I was pretty impressed. She weaves a fictional story around historical facts (Masada massacre, Emperor Domitian and other characters) creating an interesting and vibrant story.

Her descriptions of clothing, architecture and culture of the time are so vivid it's easy to picture what life was like back in first century Rome. But be warned, this isn't a book for the faint of heart. Her descriptions of gladiatorial fights, brutal activities that passed for 'entertainment' back then, animal abuse and other atrocities inflicted on people of the time are just as vivid!! If you don't have a strong stomach for blood and cruelty you may want to skim over several parts.

I'd categorize this book as a 'good indulgent summer read'. It's got suspense, intrigue, a bit of politics and romance as well as deception, backstabbing (sometimes literally) and the beauty of first century Rome. This book has a good pace, kept me interested and towards the end was hard to put down. There were a lot of characters but they were described clearly so that I could keep track of them throughout the book (plus there was a handy reference at the back of the book).

The book was told from the various points of view of several of the main characters. At times this could be a little confusing causing me to have to skip back several pages to remember which character was 'talking'. I also had a bit of a beef with the character of Lepida. She was very one dimensional and was portrayed as the clich├ęd 'spoiled little rich girl who everyone hates but always gets her way'. The woman had absolutely no redeeming qualities ... not a one. It would have been nice to make her a little more believable and realistic by showing another, softer side to her.

My main issue with this book had to do with some of the language used. I'm not talking about dropping 'F-bombs' or other cursing. I'm talking about using language that is too modern for the era the book was written. Several times throughout the book a boy named Vix used terms that I could imagine a 13 year old boy using today. For example, at one point Vix yells "Better hope your luck changes, Lady Lepida," he shouted. "Or you're screwed, screwed, screwed!". Another time he yelled "Jeez!". Now, I admit that I wasn't walking around in 91 A.D. nor do I have a degree in Roman history but I'm pretty sure that people of that era didn't say "you're screwed". It just didn't mesh with the time and that kind of thing bothers me. There were other colloquial sayings that were thrown in here and there throughout the book that gave me the same feeling.

Another issue that kept popping up in my head as I read was Arius' track record as a Gladiator extraordinaire. I realize that Arius was 'da man' in that he was one heck of a Gladiator. But his track record for wins (we're talking 8 years of winning in gladiatorial fights that always ended in the death of all but one gladiator) was too unbelievable. In all those years, in all those fights, with all those skilled gladiators, he was never killed? Even when pitted against 6 men at once? Too farfetched for this reader.

Overall, this was a good escapist read for the weekend. If you're looking for a book to lose yourself in for awhile filled with the beauty that is Rome give this a try.

My Rating: 3.5/5 stars


TheBookGirl said...

I like historical fiction, but have not read much set in Ancient Rome. I think years ago I read one or two of Colleen McCullough's books set in that time period.

From the few excerpts you quoted I certainly agree with you about the use of modern-day language seeming so out of place. That would bother me too.

Anonymous said...

I adore historical fiction, but it is sometimes hard to find such that is well written. I'll overlook the modern day language that you quoted, and look for this book at the library.

BTW--the cover would have drawn me in, too.

Laurie@The Baking Bookworm said...

BookGirl -- I love reading historical fiction based in ancient times. Have you read any of Michelle Moran's books? I LOVED "Nefertiti" and "The Heretic Queen"! I also just got an email that I have to go pick up her latest book "Madame Tussaud" at the library. :)

Kirsten@ComfortablyDomestic -- It can be hard finding a historical fiction author who portrays the era properly (not sure if that's the right word I was looking for). I want an author to take me back in time (without sounding too hokey) with language, descriptions of the architecture, clothing, art etc. Out of place modern language can hurt that imagery (in my opinion).

Thanks to both of your for your comments. :)

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