Date of Publication: April 6 2010
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.
Mistress of Rome is another book Mari recommended I read. I wasn't as enamoured with it as she was, but I appreciate reading a book out of my normal genre.
First, I wonder if my opinion is affected at all by the fact that I read 100 pages over the course of a week, and then I binge read the rest of the novel. I have a bit of a headache now and I can't help thinking the story is incredibly long. It's a drama with various elements, and at the beginning I was very interested in it. I was curious to see what would happen, and frankly I never read adult so this was completely out of my comfort zone.
I understand the story is very plot based which might be why I didn't fully connect with any of the characters. I felt kind of distant from them. Throughout the novel, many of them encountered new situations and became new people and I thought the time lapses were fascinating because I got to experience their lives. There were some characters, namely Lepida, that I prayed would die very early because she was so irritating. There was nothing redeeming about her character, and to be honest that's not something I like in a book. I kept having to read in the perspective of an absurdly irritating character.
There were some things I would have liked to know more about. For example, Arius said he had a 'black demon" inside of him and this was something never fully explored. I wondered what it was- was he mentally ill? Where did it come from? I guess I just wanted some elaboration on that part of him. Thea was the main protagonist and objectively I like her but emotionally I didn't feel too much.
I guess after a while because I wasn't invested in the characters, especially in the last fifth of the book, I was just hoping it would end. The story just became too much of a drama and it wasn't realistic to me. I despised reading Lepida's POV and I couldn't connect with some of the characters' choices.
The biggest villain of the story was despicable, but I never felt I had a grasp on their personality. The ending was warranted, and to be honest I didn't feel any sense of victory. It was more like, "Finally! The rat is dead."
Mistress of Rome felt like a really long read without a really specified overall plot. The story kind of dips and curves as it's about peoples' lives in ancient Rome rather than being a story about a specific plot. It's so long and I didn't like that because I was very tired of it by the end. I would expect that this book isn't meant to be a one sit read. But I read it in three chunks, and I realized quickly that it's not a page turner. It's the type of book that's probably meant to be read slowly, in little installments. I don't read like that, and so this isn't my type.
The other side is that although the story takes place in Rome, Mistress of Rome is a drama. I haven't read much about ancient Rome however, so it was a lot of fun to look at the different world that existed back then. I don't know enough about Rome to comment on the accuracy of the world building but to me it seemed very good.
Overall, Mistress of Rome is a different book from the type I usually read, and I enjoyed trying it out. Long winded dramas aren't really my type though, and it gets 3 stars because by the end I was just skimming some parts desperately wishing the story was over. I feel like a true testament to a quality book is one where each sentence feels beautiful and while Mistress of Rome started strong, I felt like by the end I had satisfied my craving for something new and I was completely done with the story. If you're more of a contemporary reader and romance lover, with some respect for historical reads I think you'll enjoy this one. Just remember to take it slowly. 3 stars.