Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mistress of Rome

I read several blog posts about Mistress of Rome, by Kate Quinn, and was intrigued enough to put myself on the wait list at the library. Now I wish I had bought my own copy as I can definitely see myself wanting to reread this book in a few years.

It was really a fun read--I love Ancient Rome, even before HBO hooked me with Rome and Robert Harris sealed the deal with Imperium and Pompeii--and Quinn did a wonderful job in providing a great cast of characters and a strong plot that kept me on the edge of my seat, so to speak, until the denouement.

While occasionally Quinn's characters used idioms and speech patterns that were clearly modern, I felt comfortable that her history was solid. Besides, her dialogue was easy to read and not stilted or pretentious, so a few modernisms is okay by me for the sake of readability. I got the feeling that Quinn started with a few facts--an emperor who was assassinated and whom historians have mixed views on, and then she built a plot around those facts, and then peopled it with a spectrum of characters who end up intertwined.

I really enjoyed Thea, the main female character--I liked watching her grow and develop as a person, coming into her own and embracing her talents, her genealogy, and her place in the world, as a mother, a lover, a slave, and a friend. I liked her common sense, her grit, and passion. Domitian, the Roman Emperor, is a fascinating study in depravity and politics, and Arius, the gladiator who hails from the mountains of Britannia, seems a bit like a Roman version of Jamie Fraser, the Scottish hunky hero of Outlander, et al. The vixen of the story, Lepida, was painted a tad too evil--your classic "mean girl"--without a single redeeming feature, but I have to admit that I was cheering for her demise at the end and wondering how Quinn was going to pull it off.

Mistress of Rome is a very satisfying popular novel. Quinn provides a wonderful balance of fast moving plot (though the books spans about 15 years) with interesting details of daily life (food, clothes, customs, houses, transportation) and credible historical perspective (political situation within the Roman Empire, balance of power within the government, threats from outside of Rome), and to this she added realistic dialogue, salacious but not overly graphic situations, and a hero and heroine I could really care about.

In the "Historical Note" that follows the novel text, Quinn drops broad hints that sequels are in the making. However, I like that she didn't leave this book open-ended--everything is tidily wrapped up--but the children have stories that are yet untold. Fair enough--can't wait for their stories to hit the bookstores!

Mistress of Rome is a fun read, an interesting read, an informative read. A great combination.


  1. Sounds wondrous, i'm a big fan of Ancient Rome, Greek and Egyptian fiction from a woman's perspective so i'll definitely be on the lookout for this one.

  2. This sounds a good read Jane! Have you ever read Robert Graves 'I Claudius' and 'Claudius the God'? I love these books. I still watch the series 'I Claudius' too, I must know every line:)

  3. Lynda - I have been meaning to read the Claudius for decades...really! Maybe I'll track them down and at least get them on the shelf. Thanks for the suggestion. My library has the series on DVD, and I've been meaning to check that out as well.

  4. Glad you reviewed and liked this! A friend sent me a copy but somehow it got pushed to the side; now I will find it.

    I loved I Claudius when it was first on, but I do think half the fun was watching it with my mother. Make sure you get someone in your house to enjoy it with you.