Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Isn't this cover just gorgeous? I really loved it! Kudos to the cover designer!

When Thea, a Jewish slave girl, is sold to the beautiful and rich Lepida Pollia, so begins her life as a slave in first century Rome. Life is hard, and her mistress is jealous and spiteful, so when Thea wins the heart of a gladiator that Lepida had wanted for herself, the lovers are cruelly torn apart.

But Thea has a gift of song, and before long she is performing for many of Rome's aristocrats. She soon catches the eye of Emperor Domitian, who quickly takes her as his mistress. Despite being charismatic and seemingly capable, Domitian has a dark streak, and Thea often finds herself the target of the emperor's evil games as she fights to keep her sanity.

Oy. There are so many various plot lines and twists in this novel that my description of it could go on for ages! It's such a complex story, so I'll just leave it at the above. But I couldn't decide whether I liked this book or really liked this book. I seem to flip flop on this issue with various books a lot, so it took me a while to consider it. The end result? I really like it. It was similar in many ways to Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran, which I incidentally felt was a bit stronger, but this book definitely kept my interest and made me excited for the next installments that Kate Quiin is supposedly writing. However, as I will explain, it was certainly not perfect.

Here is my biggest problem with the book: A character says the phrase, "Bitch on wheels." If that phrase was around in Ancient Rome, well then knock me over with a feather. I even went as far as to look up the phrase the other day, and I couldn't find any conclusive origins about it other than it seemed to be a phrase coined sometime in the last hundred years or so, if not even more recent. A lot of the language in this book felt awfully modern as well, and that did bother me a little bit. Obviously, I get that there is going to be some of this as it's hard to tell how people spoke two thousand years ago, and I understand there's the difference in language as well. But blatantly modern phrases are so jarring in a historical fiction book such as this that it really forces me out of the world of Ancient Rome, and it becomes difficult for me to get back in.

My other problem was that I had a hard time liking a lot of the main characters. Even Thea, who started off as a very sympathetic character, became much less so as the book went on. I never fully disliked her, but I would have liked to have cared about her a bit more. The same thing goes for Vix. He sounded like an utterly obnoxious little brat from the start, and this never changed. There were only several "main" characters that I truly liked for the entirety of the book: Julia, Marcus, and Sabina.

But with all that bad stuff out of the way, here is the good stuff: This book is utterly compelling, and I just had to keep reading to see where things would go. Even though I didn't necessarily care for all the characters, I couldn't wait to find out how things would unfold and how this book would end.

Aside from the language issue and some liberties the author took (a few of which I wonder exactly why), the book seemed very well-researched, a trait I can definitely appreciate in historical fiction novels. So that, combined with the fact that I was so anxious to keep reading, makes it an overall win for me.

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