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The Empress of Rome #2

Mistress of Rome

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The first in an unforgettable historical saga from the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Alice Network.

First-century Rome: A ruthless emperor watches over all--and fixes his gaze on one young woman...

Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia. Now she has infuriated her mistress by capturing the attention of Rome's newest and most savage gladiator--and though his love brings Thea the first happiness of her life, their affair ends quickly when a jealous Lepida tears them apart.

Remaking herself as a singer for Rome's aristocrats, Thea unwittingly attracts another admirer: the charismatic Emperor of Rome. But the passions of an all-powerful man come with a heavy price, and Thea finds herself fighting for both her soul and her 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 Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor's mistress.

470 pages, Paperback

First published April 6, 2010

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About the author

Kate Quinn

39 books23.2k followers
--I use Goodreads to track and rate my current reading. Most of my reads are 4 stars, meaning I enjoyed it hugely and would absolutely recommend. 5 stars is blew-my-socks-off; reserved for rare reads. 3 stars is "enjoyed it, but something fell a bit short." I very rarely rate lower because I DNF books I'm not enjoying, and don't rate books I don't finish.--

Kate Quinn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. A native of southern California, she attended Boston University where she earned a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Classical Voice. She has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with “The Alice Network”, “The Huntress,” “The Rose Code,” and "The Diamond Eye." All have been translated into multiple languages. Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with three rescue dogs.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,952 reviews
Profile Image for Tara Chevrestt.
Author 27 books293 followers
April 28, 2010
Ok people, key word in the synposis is "depravity." I wish I had paid closer attention. I spent this entire novel trying to find a character I could at least like if not relate to in some way. It didn't happen.

Thea is a Jewish slave that works for Lepida, a Roman "lady." Both Thea and Lepida develope lustful feelings towards the newest, fiercest, most famous gladiator, Arius. The first quarter of the novel really drew me in as Arius spurns Lepida (she has the eyes of a ferret, apparently) and begins a rather hot and steamy affair with Thea. I was really quite hooked until part two. At this point, the evil, vile, and incredibly disgusting Lepida (Can you tell how much I hated her?) has separated Thea and Arius and married a senator. From this point on, it just becomes a giant Roman orgy. Lepida is fornicating with so and so (a family relation and that is all I'm going to reveal) who was just fornicating with Thea who at this point, is fornicating with almost as many men as Lepida and that is a lot. Then Thea begins fornicating with the Emperor and Lepida wants to fornicate with him too. But alas, poor Lepida must settle for simply fornicating in the same room as the Emperor and Thea.

Both Thea and Lepida are also horrid mothers. Thea abandons her boy most of the time while Lepida tells her sick daughter to go have seizures in another room. Thea has a strange addiction to cutting herself, Lepida is addicted to sex, Arius just loves to kill people, and the Emperor is just plain demented and perverted. The only likeable people in the entire novel were Marcus and his daughter, Sabina but their roles weren't large enough to overcome my distaste at the bitter rivalry and power hungry bed hopping of Thea and Lepida.

Well written but not about characters I want to read about. Too much depravity for me.
Profile Image for Beatrix.
543 reviews96 followers
July 21, 2014
I was very pleasantly surprised by this book. I took it because I didn’t know what to read next. I thought it will be some shallow romance story, but I was wrong. This book is great! It has everything: interesting plot (constantly something happens, this book is full of events, the plot doesn’t drag on), great characters (I loved narration from different points of view here, you get to know a whole palette of amazing characters) and quality – it’s very important that the book is well written, and here the author obviously knew what she was doing. Ms. Quinn studied her material well before writing.
The result is a great book, with depth, that will entertain you and make you both sad and happy…
It’s a book about human destiny, fight for survival set in the time of Roman Empire.
Profile Image for Parvathy.
202 reviews48 followers
November 19, 2013
The first time I realized I loved reading was when I was eight and had finished reading The Vicar of Wakefield. I still remember the feeling I had when I clutched the book in my hand and declared I loved reading. It was not because the particular book in question was extraordinary, regardless of its status as a classic, but it was the first time a book has completely captured my attention that everything else seemed pale in comparison. I have read a number of books after this one and loved a few of them immensely but it was not until I read Mistress of Rome that the same feeling captured me again. I was looking for a book in the historical literature recommendation section for my mother and by chance I caught her exclaiming that this one looks like a promising read. I didn't give much heed to this book at the time but checked out the book for my mother's sake. Before I knew it I was reading this book and was so entranced by the story that I forgot the fact that I was not planning on reading it in the first place. But these spontaneous spur of the moment decision yields the most surprising results as I am convinced that this book is a rare gem I would have missed otherwise. The story transports us to an era and place which is well known yet shrouded in mystery. It takes us to ancient Rome and tells us the story of a Jewish slave girl called Thea. Her abuses at the hands of her ever spiteful and jealous mistress Lepida Pollia. Her true love for the gladiator Arius the Barbarian. The way she deals with the every twist and turns the fates throw at her ultimately leading to her rise as she become the mistress of Roman Emperor Domnitian and there by the mistress of Rome. It was truly a remarkable read. It goes without saying that I liked Thea's character but I loved Arius the Barbarian as well. The way he fought to keep his demons passive. His fighting in the Arena, his love for Thea and above all his strength to stand against an empire bend on seeing his death. The love story between this two survivors is heart wrenching and it draws you in with its simplistic charm. The life of the Roman people portrayed in this book are not far fetched or unbelieving. Every twist had a possible feel to it. The best part of the book though were those parts narrated from the point of view of Lepida. Now there is a character that will stay in your memory for a very long time. Evil in form of a person or more conveniently Evil personified as a female owing to Emperor Domitian who is a strong contender for that former title. But while the emperor's evilness can be accounted for in his insanity Lepida's was from deep with in her soul. I loved reading about her little schemes and the way she manipulated the people around her for her means. Her spoiled and self absorbed narration made me wish for her downfall so badly that it became a big reason for my preoccupation with this book. Towards the end I was so tensed that I even thought of skipping a couple of pages ahead to learn the outcome before hand but was able to restrain my self as the story moved on in a fast pace. A huge applause has to be given to the author for coming up with a breath taking climax which left me without any more nails to sacrifice. But fair warning has to be given the faint hearted as this book is not for them. There are parts of the book that can make even the strong ones feel squeamish. The historical notes at the end were highly informative and left me in a state of awe for all those authors who piece such tidbits together to create entirely interesting stories of their own. Saying that I am not entirely sure that the book should be curbed to the title of historical literature. Though there were a lot of historical elements in the book but it never goes in much details in this regard. The historical wars and conquests are explained and lengthy descriptions are given for the Colosseum battles of the gladiators. But a wealth of information is not obtained from this book about that particular time period to qualify it as a historical fiction. Nevertheless this book is worth a read and definitely a keeper.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,430 reviews983 followers
January 17, 2022
It’s not every day that I read a historical fiction book set during the Roman Empire featuring several real life people as characters and some real life events. I highly recommend looking up the Wikipedia article on Roman Emperor Domitian when you are finished reading this just to see how much of the book lines up with history. This fictional version does feature a romance but it’s not the center of the book’s plot and therefore takes a backseat for most of it. I was pleased to find a relatively large cast of secondary characters which really fleshed the story out. I’ll definitely continue on with this series. Quinn’s writing has improved when comparing this earlier work to her latest releases, but her talent still shines through.
Profile Image for Sunny.
275 reviews239 followers
April 5, 2020
What the fuck did I just read? Never have I ever been this allured by a book in a severely very long time. This book has everything I could want in a novel: romance, a historical storyline, gladiators, atrocious villains, battle scenes, a Roman setting, and did I mention GLADIATORS?!?!?!


This novel follows multiple characters. You'll even get chapters from the villains. I have this thing where dark themes completely enamor me. Yeah...I'm a sadist. But this novel had my heart pumping from beginning to end with its dark themes. After each scene ended, there would be something else that would put me back on the edge of my seat. Some of the best stories have the most sadistic villains. And Mistress of Rome is one of them. All your top female villains ranging from Dolores Umbridge to a Sarah J Maas villain has NOTHING on this bitch. I've had to pause this book many times because I couldn't handle the intensity.

Thea is a Jewish slave girl who is purchased to serve Lapida, a manipulative heiress who grows to become a sickeningly horrid woman. After Thea falls in love with Arius the Barbarian, the best gladiator Rome has ever seen, they get torn apart due to Lapida's jealousness. Thea, despite being a salve, goes on to become an established singer. Arius is forced to live as a gladiator, constantly participating in brutal and vicious fights he doesn't even want to partake in. And then there's Lapida, who goes on to wreck havoc in literally every way that she can.

Despite the little success Thea has, she unfortunately gets captivated by Emperor Domitian's eyes. His character is severely twisted. He's the type of leader who everyone thinks highly of, but behind closed doors, he's an abusive man who once drove his previous mistress to be so mentally and physically abused she committed suicide. Being the Emperor's mistress, she is now titled the Mistress of Rome. Domitian is utterly captivated by Thea. What's worse, is he loves playing games. Which there's nothing wrong with...as long as you aren't a crazy twisted psycho.

My heart went out for Thea. She's a woman who was constantly passed on from man to man, only end up with the crazy psychotic dude who rules the entire country. And Lapida is ruining the lives of everyone around her, include her sweet as fuck husband who wants nothing but the best for his family. I kid you not...I have never, and I mean NEVER, hated a fictional character more in my ENTIRE life.

If you enjoy ancient historical fiction with a romantic subplot, do keep this novel on your radar. It made me shiver and sweat because I was that nervous.

Trigger Warnings:
➛ Rape
➛ Descriptive violence
➛ Physical and mental abuse
April 15, 2019
Re-read 2019 for challenge

Its very rare that I give a book a 5 star rating , but once again this book deserves it.
This book from the start drew me into the story & the characters and wouldn't let go...I would put the book aside to slow down as I didn't want it to come to the end..and yet I kept picking it back up..and it kept drawing me back into Thea's & Arius lives & story.
The author writes in the first person for some of the characters which may seem confusing to some at first.
But you get to know each person in their private life with shocking events that happened..and newer ones later in the book.
You also come to know their strengths as well as their weaknesses and why they do what they do to survive.
A female "villain" in this book you will just hate..yet you need to find out next who she will betray..or ruin...its also a deeply passionate love story with lots of intrigue & drama.
Thea & Arius and the story have stayed with me long after I closed the book.
Now I'm looking forward to reading their continuing story in the next two books!
Profile Image for Erin.
2,956 reviews485 followers
August 3, 2018
In between ARCs and my TBR shelf, I am revisiting some of my favorite books; specifically books that I read prior to my years on Goodreads. Mistress of Rome was my first Kate Quinn read and even eight years later still burns with 5 golden stars

Set in Ancient Rome and spanning the years 81 AD -96 AD, Mistress of Rome takes readers back into a city under the rule of Emperor Domitian. From political intrigues to the gladiators ring, this is a masterfully crafted story that I have returned to again and again. As I have mentioned, this is a re-read, but yet I still found myself swept away and on the edge of my seat taking in all the action. If you have ever thought of "visiting" Ancient Rome, I cannot think of a better book that will keep your hands glued to its pages.
Profile Image for Amber.
56 reviews9 followers
May 7, 2010

I bought this on a whim. I didn't read the back, I didn't read any reviews, I certainly didn't read the page of critic's praise just inside the cover. Every time I've gone on these indicators lately, I've been incredibly disappointed. So, I bought this one based on--GASP!--the cover!

I was skeptical as the first several pages are describing a self-harming ritual of one of the main characters. I was even a little disgusted by such a transparent hook, but I found that I couldn't put the book down. In fact, I felt that way throughout the entire reading. Horrified, disgusted, and utterly unable to stop. In fact, I read the entire thing in one sitting.

Though I found some of the "shocking" plot twists a tad contrived and very, very predictable, it was sort of comforting to know that the author wasn't trying to make the book more than the plot could handle. It began, moved along, and ended exactly the way you would think a book about the Mistress(es) of a crazed Roman Emperor should.

The book basically follows the three mistresses of Emperor Domitian, a suspicious, violent man. The first of these women is the Emperor's own niece, Julia, who's tragic story begins when she's turned down by the Vestals and ends with her violent death. The second is Thea, a Jewish slave who iseventually trained as a musician. She is set up from the beginning as a direct rival to her owner, Lepida Pollia, a beautiful and spoiled heiress with a very dark side. Their rivalry begins when an up-and-coming gladiator known as Arius the Barbarian chooses Thea over Lepida, leading Lepida to sell Thea into prostitution. This sets off a series of events which fuel the hatred between the two women as Thea (now known as Athena) gains fame as a singer and Lepida becomes the wife of a well respected Senator. When Thea catches the eye of the Emperor, whom Lepida had hoped to call her own, it sparks a descent into violence and madness for both women.

I can't say, even now, that I liked it. The characters and subject matter were too dark to like, but I can say that it is compelling. I couldn't put it down and that's all I can really ask for.

Profile Image for Carol She's So Novel꧁꧂ .
796 reviews583 followers
December 28, 2015

To my grandparents, Glenn & Marylou Reed-Quinn,who are no longer here to read this book, but who would undoubtedly have cracked a bottle of champagne & bought a dozen copies.

My favourite dedication of the year.

I didn't respond quite so strongly to the book. I don't need a likeable heroine - Forever Amber & Gone with the Wind remain as two of my favourite novels. I think the problem is that I felt nothing for Thea at all & found most of the other female characters more interesting. Maybe I need a likeable hero. I, Claudius is another favourite set in roughly the same era & I liked Claudius very much, whereas Arius & Vix remained charisma free killing machines.

Quinn in her afterward lists some of her inaccuracies (& I found at least a couple more) & I thought it was a smart move writing in a modern idiom - so many writers slide uneasily between the past & present in dialogue & I always find that jarring.

Quinn can write a fast paced & compelling page turner, but my rating has to reflect that I liked this book rather than loved it.

I'm not sure if I will continue with this series but I still want to read Quinn's Borgia books.
Profile Image for Karina.
819 reviews
September 10, 2019
It was an entertaining story. Maybe 100 pages too long but enjoyable.

Set in Rome during Emperor Domitius reign, the last of the Flavian Dynasty. He was an evil maniac that could have a change of heart in a second. The story follows a Jewish slave girl, Thea, and all she had to endure to survive. The worst character was Lady Lepida Pollia and her ugly, bitter ways.

I liked the historical fiction that was true but didn't care for the extra made for Hollywood stuff.

Profile Image for Minni Mouse.
621 reviews961 followers
June 17, 2018
That moment when you go in expecting a Roman version of a Regency-era historical romance...but instead you get a Gladiator-level storyline meets Game of Thrones-level cruelty and wickedness.

It's an understatement to say that this book took me by surprise. Given the pretty cover, the title, the genre listings, and the book description I was expecting either a corny historical romance novel or a silly, light-hearted story like Curses and Smoke. What smacked me in the face instead was a whole lot of perverse corruption and a crazy amount of slapping my hand over my eyes as I took a few shuddering breaths to compose myself.

You think politics and morals are shaky today? Well, true, they are...but this book will remind you that Ancient Rome--the greatest military power and unrivaled leader of thought in the world--used to also be the pinnacle of violence and corruption and barbarism and perversion.

Needless to say, I refuse to shelve this as "romance" and I sure ain't shelving this as "light entertainment," either.

I'd say the book synopsis is starkly misleading because it makes it seem like the focus is on one woman struggling with her relationship with two powerful men. You make that mistake and you're in for a nasty shock like me because this book is so much darker and broader than a pithy romantic triangle.

This story takes place from A.D. 81 - A.D. 96 and follows the perspectives of four main characters through the last years of the rule of Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus, a real historical figure.

1) Thea: a Jewish slave who falls in love with a gladiator, is sold into prostitution, becomes a celebrated singer, and ensnares the obsession of the Emperor of Rome
2) Lepida Pollia: wife of a Roman Senator; ruthless and ambitious in her lust for power
3) Arius: Rome's most celebrated and cunning gladiator
4) Paulinus: Lepida's tortured stepson and eventual right-hand man to the Emperor

I can't expand more without spoiling the many plot twists, but essentially there's political corruption, violence, death, adultery, orgies, rape, incest, and torture. (Ah, Rome.) The saving grace is that none of these are gratuitous or graphically described to titillate. Apart from the corruption and fighting, the blood & gore are restrained and matter-of-factly stated, the sex is either implied or offscreen, and the torture is offscreen.

1) I love stories around Ancient Rome, so natural book chemistry right there.

2) Props to the author for crafting such a thick, convoluted story. Again, this book spans fifteen years of history so we have an entire arsenal of secondary characters and intersecting storylines. When we started, I almost waved this book off as a predictable forbidden romance between a young slave girl and a gladiator who wanted nothing more than their freedom. Part Two jumps forward six years, however, and we quickly learn the broad scale this book plans to take us.

3) Hardly any of our characters are wholly likeable (or even partly likeable), but one could argue that this is more realistic than if we portrayed them as gold-hearted heroes from a young adult series. Our protagonists aren't Herculean leaders or Chosen One heroes, after all -- they're a prostitute, a man who disembowels others for a living, a feeble pushover politician, an incest-driven Praetorian war hero, and a bastard child.

May the odds be ever in your favor.

4) The Emperor was so sadistic and mentally twisted that I wanted to reach through the pages and smash his face in. Minus point for this sicko but plus points to the author for creating such a strong antagonist.

The moment when he secures his newest mistress had me flipping tables and howling.
“Yes. I didn’t think I’d find you so interesting, not after three months. But there’s something in you I seem to like, and on a long-term basis I prefer to own rather than rent. You’ll return to Rome with me in a week.

"You know I’ve built a new palace? Nearly completed. I’ll use it for public functions . . . and for the Empress’s quarters. You’ll move into her old rooms next to mine in the Domus Augustana—that’s my private palace. You know, I had a statue of Minerva carved with your face for my private temple? Perhaps you really are a goddess. It would be foolish to let my very own goddess slip away from me, wouldn’t it? And I’ve never been a fool."

Domitian traced my neck, his eyes turning blank and absent. “I like to play games, you know. With my chamberlains, my senators, my guards. It’s easy to make them afraid of me. Even my wife’s afraid under that marble face of hers. But you aren’t."

5) I hated Lepida even more, though. This woman was probably the sickest and cruelest female literary antagonist that I've read. And I don't usually like using this word...but homegirl was the textbook definition of a slut:
“The affair with my son when you were a bride of twenty-one. The affairs with, at my last count, twenty-two senators, nine praetors, three judges, and five provincial governors.”

“It’s—it’s not true, I never—”

“At least they were men of your own class,” [he] rode over me. “What about the affairs with the charioteers, and the masseurs at the public bathhouses, and the legionnaires—especially the two brothers from Gaul who took you at the same time, front and back? Governors and senators are one thing, Lepida, but trash from the gutters..."

Which was why it was so refreshing to watch this woman get told.
“Why?” Lepida drew back her silk skirts and kicked Arius in his injured ankle; he drew a breath through his teeth. “Why her? Why not me?”

He regarded her briefly. “Because you look like a ferret.”

Well said.

6) Vix! I didn't think I'd like this kid so much but I was impressed by the distinct characterization that the author gave him in the form of physical energy and a fearless mouth.

“So.” The Emperor settled back into the black cushions. “What shall I do with you?”

“You could let me walk out,” Vix suggested.

“No . . . I don’t think so.”

“Worth a try.”


“All black, huh?” Vix looked around the black triclinium—chinking his wrist chains together, Paulinus noticed, to hide the fact his hands were trembling. “Scary.”

“I haven’t decided yet what to do with you, Vercingetorix,” the Emperor mused. “I could throw you to the lions in the arena. Or perhaps I’ll have you gelded. How would you like to sing as prettily as your mother?”

“I’m tone-deaf.”

“A man of the sword, then. Like your father, perhaps. Who was he?”

“Dunno.” Clink clink clink.

“Liar,” Domitian said pleasantly. “We’ll have to work on that.”

“Oh boy. Can’t wait.” Clink clink clink.

“Stop that.”

“Stop what?” Clink clink clink.

“That sound. It annoys me. A god’s ears are acute.”

“Well, we’ve all got problems.” Clink clink clink. “You’re going to kill me,” said Vix to the Emperor. “Aren’t you.”

“We’ll see.”

“We’ll see, nothing. I’ve heard the stories. Gods squish mortals like ants.”

“You believe me a god, then?”

“Well, I don’t know.” Another smile. “You sure bleed like a mortal, Caesar.”

1) This book was LONG (longer than this review, if you can believe it).

2) The writing style was extremely matter-of-fact with very little richness in its descriptions or narratives. Most of the text was dialogue, which came in handy when it came to glossing over the violent scenes, but it was frustrating during important scenes when I wished there was more context of what was happening.

“I’m not allowed to do anything anymore.”
“Except wait on the Emperor?”
“. . . Don’t.”
“Why can’t I touch you?”
“He’d smell you on me.”
“He’s not a god.”
“Arius, he’ll never release me. Once he puts his mark on something, it’s his forever.”
Silence. He reached for her.
“Arius—Arius, don’t.”
“Don’t what?”
“Don’t touch me.”
“What’s wrong? You’re shaking.”
“No, I—I—just don’t try to kiss me. Please.”
“I need to know you’re real. You look like a dream, and I’m old and ugly.”
“Never that. Never that.”

This book was emotionally draining due to its dark and evil nature. What kept me going was the need to see our characters find happiness or justice or peace, but that was hard-pressed to find.

Would I recommend it? Yes, I would. The writing style was extremely direct and straight forward--which I found difficult and distracting in its simplicity--and the characterizations lacked a richness...but this seems like one of those books where the plot elements themselves are supposed to carry the weight and pacing of the book. If that's the case then well done - there's certainly a lot that transpires in this book. As a result, I found this book to be a thick mix of drama, action, suspense, scheming, romance, and heartache.

Would I read the sequels? Yes, but preferably after a giant cookie.
Profile Image for Juliette Cross.
Author 35 books2,446 followers
May 23, 2018
3rd Reread. One of my very favorite books. 5+ STARS

This book has all the elements of the perfect story, in my opinion. Danger, despair, hope, betrayal, revenge, murder, lust, and undying, unconditional love. And though this is accurately categorized as historical fiction, it centers around one of the best love stories I've ever read. EVER.
Profile Image for Rebecca Huston.
1,061 reviews157 followers
March 28, 2013
I tried very hard to like this one. Set in ancient Rome, during the reign of Emperor Domitian, it tells the story of two doomed lovers, Thea and Arius, who struggle not just for freedom but also to save their very lives. Along the way, we get a tour of the Colosseum's deadly games, with plenty of descriptive gore and violence, and if that's not enough, Thea's and Arius' abuse at the hands of others is also lovingly described. There's also Domitian, who is clearly just as mad as previous Emperors, and Lepida, a slut of the first order who endlessly schemes and sleeps her way through all of Rome. Other characters are long-suffering, with no one except Lepida seeming to have a good time. Then there's another character Paulinus, who is essentially good, but lacks either the ballocks or spine to actually stand up for himself, Sabina, who is miracly cured, Julia the emperor's niece who's also off her rocker, and so on and so forth. Everyone in this one is either very good or very bad, but those are little flaws compared to some of the research errors in here -- most readers won't notice or care, but for me it was irritating as all get out. Modern idiom creeps in constantly, and the most hilarious error was when a character described being bundled up like a sack of potatoes. Please. (I really ought to make a shelf labeled The Potato Incident for those books which tend to have that innocent tuber appear when it's clear that potatoes didn't make it to Europe before 1500) In short, despite all of the promise and faint glimmers of real potential, this was a flunk for me. Just two stars and not recommended.

For the longer review, please go here:
Profile Image for Cathy S. .
43 reviews19 followers
October 10, 2014
I was torn between 2 and 3stars on this one. I am not a history snob where every fact must be checked and verified. But major themes must be based on fact. I find it hard to believe that many slaves were into self mutilation. And I do know that historians now believe that most gladiator matches were NOT to the death. It would have been a financial nightmare for any lanista if after months/years of training one were to lose a top player. I feel the book lacked historical context. I could be reading about the mistress from any emperor during all of Rome's history. Without a good historical basis I feel the book resembles a harlequin romance not literary historical fiction.

Having said all that I still gave the book3 stars because it was a very nice love story. I was drawn into Thea's and Arius's love story. I wanted them to find a way to be together at all costs. Their pure love stands in extreme contrast to any of the affairs that Lepida worms her way into. Some of my favorite parts of the book involved the scheming Lepida! Ms. Quinn was at the her very best when she wrote Lepida's part! I really would have enjoyed this more had it been marketed as a romance not as historical fiction.
Profile Image for Abby Lyn.
201 reviews11 followers
June 30, 2010
I picked up this book based on the cover recommendations of authors including Diana Gabaldon and Margaret George, and was not disappointed. This is a fun, enthralling romp through ancient Rome. I would classify this as more of a guilty-pleasure page-turner rather than literary as George suggests, but that is what makes it a great summer read. I would have preferred the author kept to either third or first person rather than alternating back and forth, and the dialogue was a bit modern American for historical fiction, but those are minor complaints. This is a juicy read and I look forward to the next installment, as I hear this book will have a sequel. Readers should be warned that despite the lovely book cover, this book features truly dark and violent moments.
Profile Image for Amy Bruno.
364 reviews482 followers
April 12, 2010
In the summer of 1993 in between my junior and senior year in high school I had the unique opportunity to travel to Rome as part of the Travel and Tourism program at my school. We spent 9 days in Rome with a day trip to Florence and walked what felt like to be a gazillion miles. Though after a horrific experience with the taxi drivers of Rome, the walking didn’t seem all that bad after all! One of my favorite sights following, of course, the Sistine Chapel was the Coliseum. This massive work of Roman architecture is awe-inspiring in person, if not a tad frightening and intimidating. At the age of 16 I had neither the knowledge nor the appreciation of what actually took place inside the Coliseum, I mean I knew basically what it was used for, but nothing more in depth than that. Well now that’s changed and author Kate Quinn has given me the chance to go back to Rome via her fabulous debut novel, Mistress of Rome.

Mistress of Rome takes place in the 1st century during the reign of Domitian, the eleventh Roman Emperor. 1st century Rome was a land ruled by classes and wealth, where violence reined and the celebrities of the day were gladiators. The Romans were a blood thirsty people who routinely gathered in the Coliseum to watch animals and gladiators fight to the death…some of the gladiators were convicts or prisoners of war, who had no say in their fate, while others chose the life of a gladiator simply because they sought fame and riches. Slaves were also a common part of Roman life. A slave was the property of their owner and could be treated however their master fancied with no fear of punishment. Mistress of Rome is about two such people – Thea, a Jewish slave purchased to serve Lepida, the daughter of a wealthy nobleman and Arius, a convict from Briton who becomes one of the most famous gladiators in Rome. Against all odds these two people find true love and will persevere through any obstacles put in their way to be together.

With colorful and intriguing characters and Quinn’s dynamic writing style, coupled with brilliant descriptions of Rome and the violent life of a gladiator, Mistress of Rome is how historical fiction should be written! There was never a point in the novel where I got bored, rather quite the opposite….I ran back to it whenever I had a free minute and read the last 350 pages in one sitting. It was that good!! Needless to say, I was over the moon excited to read that there will be a sequel and I believe also a prequel in the works! You can bet that I will be at the door of my local bookstore on release day!

I give Mistress of Rome an enthusiastic 5 crowns!

Profile Image for Jeannie Mancini.
206 reviews21 followers
March 11, 2010
The Nastiness of Ancient Rome

In Kate Quinn’s new debut novel Mistress of Rome, she presents the raw, blood and guts side of the ancient city and it’s people. I was eager to read this historical novel, this time period is one of my favorites. However, I can’t say I enjoyed it. I struggled and struggled and had to quit about 3/4 of the way through. I was astounded that on the cover of the ARC, there was an endorsement blurb by the queen of historical fiction, Margaret George, calling this book “literary” and “stunning”. I have read a lot of literary ancient historical novels, and I have read a lot of light historical romances, and this to me was far from literary and certainly not stunning.

I can’t say this was a terrible novel, but for me it was far from wonderful. The story revolves around a few main characters that take alternate turns telling their stories that interlock with one another. The main heroine is Thea, a Jewish slave woman who falls in love with Arius, called The Barbarian in the gladiatorial arena. An unstoppable brute who manages to tear apart and slay every man that dares to become his opponent. Living longer than most gladiators he is the hero of the blood sports in all of Brundisium, champion of the Coliseum. Fate brings Arius and Thea together for a short romantic spell that fate intervenes with, splitting the lovers against their will when the evil Lady Lepida Pollia wants the handsome gladiator for herself and so connives to have Thea sent away. The story unravels with each of the three characters lives unfolding through the years, each full of hatred of their dreaded fate in life. Lepida is a spoiled brat, who wants every man another woman holds out of spite, hurting everyone in her path leaving them in the dust. Arius’s inner hostility for having become a slave and a gladiator at the emperor’s beck and call , has him lashing out by brandishing his sword cutting down any man caught in his way. Thea, later a hired singer and whore of the emperor himself, drowns in her own animosity as the emperor nightly brutalizes and beats her black and blue.

I found none of these characters , good or bad, redeeming or enjoyable to read about. All the characters involved were evil, nasty and unhappy and I found that with that, I didn’t care about them, or want to know the outcome of the story. I felt the story ran pretty predictable and familiar to those I had read in the realm of historical romance novels set in that time period. They were callous, heartless, disloyal characters ,and even though I usually enjoy a well created “bad guy”, it seemed to me that they were all bad. The plot was thin, and rather lame. Not much to it really to say I was riveted to the page.

Now maybe if a reader had not read many ancient Rome novels, literary or romantic, they might find this interesting or inventive. But if you have read many before, I think you’ll agree this is nothing new and lacked originality and finesse. There are times when I felt the writing and parts of the story ok, but mostly…not. It lacked polish, and within the storyline I couldn’t really find an ultimate goal that one or any of the characters were shooting for that I wanted to see come full circle in the end. I often kept thinking to myself..”where is this story going? Is there a point here?”. It just seemed to lack focus and presented a group of angry spiteful characters prowling around each other like the players in the gladiator arena with no passion, love, or determination. Sorry folks, I just couldn’t get through this
Profile Image for Antoinette.
753 reviews39 followers
September 27, 2013
Historical fiction at its finest!!! I absolutely loved this book. Once I started it, I could not leave it. The story just flowed. The author was great at depicting all the characters in this book. I must say I loved Thea as much as I detested Lepida. I love fiction that takes place in ancient Rome and this book is definitely a winner.
Profile Image for warhawke.
1,298 reviews1,954 followers
February 16, 2022

Genre: Historical Fiction
Type: Standalone book 1 from The Empress of Rome series
POV: Shifting (1st person female/third person)

As a slave from Judea, Thea’s goal was to be invisible to survive. But her talent and allure caught the attention of the most famous and powerful men of Rome. Alas, the attention also caught the eyes of someone who would do anything to elevate herself no matter the consequences.

I love the Roman Empire era, so I was excited to start this one. The book is long, but the story was engaging and managed to keep my attention throughout with the actions and ambiance.

“He’s a hard man, my uncle; he’s hard and he’s cruel, and he’s cruelest of all to his women.”

The characters in this book had to endure various trials and tribulations. I loved seeing how they rise or fall from it. There were many interesting characters, and one character stood out as one of the most hated fictional characters I’ve ever read.

Mistress of Rome is a story of manipulation and survival. It would appeal to readers who enjoy Historical Fiction with a dash of Romance.

Books in the series:
Mistress of Rome (The Empress of Rome, #1) by Kate Quinn Daughters of Rome (The Empress of Rome, #2) by Kate Quinn Empress of the Seven Hills (The Empress of Rome, #3) by Kate Quinn The Three Fates (The Empress of Rome, #3.5) by Kate Quinn Lady of the Eternal City (The Empress of Rome, #4) by Kate Quinn

⚱️ ⚔️⚱️ . . . (F)BR with Twinsie CC . . .⚱️ ⚔️⚱️

For more reviews/interviews/promo visit:

Profile Image for Jenny Q.
1,001 reviews54 followers
May 6, 2011
4.5 Stars. Wow, what a story! I was under its spell from the very first page, and I could not put it down, mainly because I was instantly drawn to the lead characters, Arius and Thea. They are both slaves, subject to the whims of the Roman aristocracy. They are both fighting to survive: Arius in the arena, and Thea in the service of her truly awful mistress, Lepida. I loved them both, but my heart really went out to Thea. This was my first experience with a character who cuts herself, and I was surprised to find it in a historical novel. I thought this aspect of Thea was very well written, and made a lot of sense given her history. Thea is so calm and collected, making the best of every rotten twist life throws at her, and cutting herself is the only way Thea knows how to release her anger, guilt, and disappointment. Until she meets Arius...

Arius is a wonderful character, too. Noble, honorable, and brave, but filled with seething hatred for himself and the Romans who come to watch him fight, and Emperor Domitian in particular. He's fighting dark demons, too, until he meets Thea, and discovers a new reason for living. Their love story is so simple and sweet, yet it spans a dozen years of misfortune, separation, and tragedy. As Arius continues to fight, he reluctantly becomes the darling of the arena, feeding the greedy Romans' hunger for bloodsport by day, and drinking himself into oblivion by night, all the while mocking them, disrespecting them, and making an enemy of the Emperor. Meanwhile Thea, though still a slave, finds her star rising, too, as a songbird in demand among the aristocracy. Capturing the attention of Domitian would seem like a dream come true, but it turns out to be the ultimate nightmare, and Thea finds herself fighting to survive once again. Will she make it out alive? Will she ever meet Arius again? And if she does, what will happen when he discovers the love of his life is the mistress of his greatest enemy? Well I'm not telling--you'll have to read the book to find out!

Overall, I thought this book was awesome! I've already told you how much I loved Thea and Arius, but there's also a great cast of supporting characters, and combined with a background of excellent historical detail, the city of Rome and the vices of its citizens really come to life, and become characters in themselves. My complaints are few, and the main one being that I never figured out why Lepida was so downright nasty and spiteful. I couldn't find any real motivation for her behavior, and she came across as being very one-dimensional--the convenient big, bad villain. But boy, oh boy, I hated her and couldn't wait to see her get what was coming to her!

This story is not for the faint of heart, but neither was first-century Rome, and based on other books I've read, I don't think anything Ms. Quinn has included is far-fetched or unbelievable. This book has a killer ending--those final scenes were nail-biting, gut-wrenching thrillers, and I was kept guessing until the very last page. In her author's note Ms. Quinn reveals that she will be writing a follow-up book concentrating on two of the supporting characters, and I will be the first person in line to buy it! This one has earned its spot on my keeper shelf.
Profile Image for Erica.
30 reviews55 followers
April 29, 2015
Not a fan of romance novels but love reading about Ancient Rome? Give this book a try. I did and I'm glad for it. I was pleasantly surprised by Mistress of Rome. I really liked the writing style and I loved the characters. But I have other books to read Mrs. Quinn and now you've got me wrapped up in the lives of Arius, Thea, Vix, Marcus, and Sabina. It's on to book two for me. My favorite part of the book? "Ganymede...Ganymede...Ganymede.." (Take that you stupid bitch! hahaha)

I'd give this book a 4.5 rating.
Profile Image for Brittany.
48 reviews19 followers
November 12, 2014
Mistress of Rome took some time to hook me, but when it did I couldn't put it down. I adored some characters and absolutely loathed others. A great character driven read.
Profile Image for Krista Claudine Baetiong.
259 reviews32 followers
August 31, 2017
I was never really interested in stories about gladiators and ancient Rome, but this book about a slave woman who falls in love with a gladiator during Emperor Domitian’s time and becomes enmeshed in a tangle of imperial politics and social injustices changed all that. I like how the fictional protagonists are sensible and astute, and how their characters perfectly blend in with the story’s historical backdrop and portrayals of real-life people, as if they too lived in the past. The story is engaging, the author’s writing style is impressive (she really knows how to keep the flame of interest going for her readers), and a great deal of interesting trivia about this historical period is thoughtfully laid out.
Profile Image for Mishelle LaBrash.
114 reviews52 followers
August 12, 2010
Bloody Fantastic Book.

Bursting with amazing characters, some you will fall madly in love with, while others you will just love to despise.

Corruption, Jeolousy, Murder, Conspiracy, Heartbreak, Adultry, Passion, and above all Love detail this courageous and brilliant first novel of the amazing Kate Quinn.

Fast paced, and jaw clenching, this is a story for the masses. A definate page turner, with a guarantee to keep you up all night, ignore the family, and sneak as many reading breaks from work as possible.

I simply couldn't put this book down.

Profile Image for Stephanie Thornton.
Author 10 books1,316 followers
May 31, 2014
This book was amazing! And it's a debut novel so that's even better! I've heard agents say Rome is impossible to sell, but this was a riveting story from start to finish. My favorite character was Lepida. She reminded me of a Scarlet O'Hara you just wanted to strangle through the whole book. And talk about voice! I got excited every time the POV shifted to Lepida.

If you enjoyed the movie Gladiator, (and who didn't?) then you'll love Mistress of Rome. It's a history lesson in itself, but without ever losing sight of the plot. There is a ton of blood and gore in the Coliseum (all historically accurate) and includes an intriguing look at the Vestal Virgins and Emperor Domitian. There are also some other historical folks who show up so those cameos are like special treats if you know your Roman history. And if you don't, it's still a wild ride.
Profile Image for Lesa Divine.
966 reviews192 followers
March 10, 2020
I really enjoyed this.

Thea a slave to Lady Lepida who's a omg b**** Lepida finds herself crazy over the gladiator. But once she finds out he has eyes for another she's determined to make them pay.

Thea ends up being a singer and selling her body. But the Emperor has eyes for her.

Lepida just a jealous fool that's determined to make everyone around her miserable by all means in order to make herself happy.

Gotta have a villain in a story of course.
Can't wait to read the rest of this series.
Profile Image for Renee.
Author 51 books189 followers
May 15, 2010
Okay, what can I say that can express how much I enjoyed Mistress of Rome? Hmm. I enjoyed this book as much as I'd enjoy a quiet evening with Mr. Owen. Yes, that much.

I was swept into the story effortlessly and carried along with the characters. I went into the reading figuring as a first novel, if I enjoyed the read, as I've enjoyed other writing here by this author, I'd give it 3 or 4 stars. I'd read reviews about Mistress of Rome that made me nervous. The POV jumps, the 'gratuitous sex' and the blood. Well, none of that seemed an issue for me. The POV shifts were seemless and easy to follow, Quinn's writing was a dream to read and often I forgot I was actually reading. That's rare. The sex? Not graphic, not gratuitous and not 'scandalous', it fit with the story. This was ancient Rome for crying out loud. Full of intrigue, suspense, romance and that Roman something that makes you wish you could go back in time for just a taste of what it was like to live among such power, such passion, and such...what's the word? Luxury...indulgence.

I loved Thea who did what she had to do in order to survive. I hated Lepidia, and I mean hated. Kudos to Quinn for creating such a perfectly despicable character.

My heart went out to Vix who made me chuckle more than once. Such a delightful boy who I'm really glad is not my kid.

The Emperor, Dominitian (spelling is probably wrong), I found myself at times attracted to this character but more often appalled. Well done.

Sabina, I can't wait to read more about her. Marcus is my hero and I actually nearly (nearly, not quite) cried for Paulinus and all that he endures. Arius..I want one of him. We all should have an Arius in our life.

Okay, I've gone on and on about characters so I'll wrap this up by saying that I highly recommend this book. It has been an eternity since I've read historical fiction that absorbed my imagination and made me want to keep reading as Mistress did. Years in fact. I dreamed about the characters....some rather disturbing and disjointed dreams, but the story stayed with me nonetheless. I cannot wait for Kate to release her next book. I would wait in a line up full of stinky irritating people at the crack of dawn to buy it. If you know me at all, that says a lot. I won't promise how many of my fellow waiters would survive...but I think this author is worth the risk.
Profile Image for Gina *loves sunshine*.
1,883 reviews69 followers
September 15, 2018
I always love a book that brings me back to Rome - there is just something about ANY story that crosses through those streets! This one has it all - the love, the murder, the intrigue, the liars, the backstabbers, the mistresses, the slaves, the royalty, and the craziness that always comes along with Roman history and romance!!!!

There were sooooo many characters ~ some I loved, some I loathed. Characters that jumped off the page, and characters that made me yawn! Overall, it gave me a 3.75 kind of love! I love a good gladiator story...but I wish there was so much more to Thea and Arius' story!!!!! I thought this book was going to be mainly about them(per the synopsis) But this book had multiple major storylines that all took over. It was more about the Emperor and his Mistress and the battle all around him for power.

Overall a good story, loved the setting, loved Sabina and Vix and I can see in the upcoming books that they are the main characters so I might just have to continue!!!

P.S available on Hoopla - the newest, coolest thing ever that is offered free through your local library
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