Review: Mistress of Rome (The Empress of Rome #1) by Kate Quinn

Thea has known nothing but pain for most of her life. Sold as a slave from Judea, the young Jewish girl now lives in Rome and works in the house of a cruel mistress, Lepida.

Lepida’s father is in charge of coordinating the gladiator games in Rome and often Lepida and Thea follow him to watch the carnage of the fighting pits.

While watching a fight, the crowd is captivated by a fighter known only as the Barbarian. Women throw themselves at him and yet he refuses them. When Lepida sends Thea with a note to the Barbarian, Thea and the fearsome fighter begin a tedious friendship which gradually turns to love.

When Lepida finds out, she is blind with jealousy…..what could Thea have that she doesn’t? So she sells Thea as a prostitute. What Lepida can’t know is that Thea will eventually capture the attention of the most powerful man in Rome…..the Emperor.

This book keeps coming up on my radar….tons of people in this historical fiction blog world love this book and highly recommend it. So I decided it was time to dive into the ancient world again and give this one a go.

This book wasn’t what I was expecting at all. It was much darker and sad that I thought it would be. From the opening line, it became clear that this wasn’t going to be a happy tale…..cutting and ‘bleeding’ one’s self is hardly the beginning of a happily ever after romance, which was what I was expecting when I picked up the book.

But I kept reading. I wasn’t sure what to think or expect after the first chapter but I was willing to give it a fair shot. I didn’t really like any of the characters….Thea was so guarded that I never warmed to her even in the end. Lepida was a vengeful bitch but as the villain that’s the be expected. The Barbarian was too dark and also too guarded to really see him as a ‘hero’ or ‘romantic’ interest. I mean I didn’t like ANY of the characters…..but still I kept reading.

So that said, you would think that I would give this star a low rating right? Wrong. Oddly enough while I wasn’t especially attached to the characters and didn’t especially ‘like’ the story…..I was glued to the pages for one reason…..it was different.

It wasn’t the same old cliche hero and heroine. I liked that Quinn went with the darker side of Roman culture and society instead of the easy traditional route. I felt like Quinn was true to the period and true to the brutal and often violent, ancient world.

Not to mention the story was so twisted and just dark and wrong, that I couldn’t help but keep reading. I had to know how things were going to resolve for the characters in the end.

With most books, things start wrapping up about 50-60% of the way through but with this one, things didn’t really start wrapping up until about 80% which was interesting. I would normally think that the ending would be too fast but it wasn’t in this case. Things wrapped up neatly and at a proper speed, not to mention I thought the ending was fitting.

There was a hint of ‘predictability’ when it came to the plot and ultimate resolution but that didn’t bother me really. The plot itself was different and dark enough to hold my interest and keep me reading through some of the predictable outcomes.

Even now I can’t say that I really liked this book…..the characters and the subject matter were dark and not really ‘likable’ or even ‘relate-able’ but for some reason I just could not put it down….I had to know what happened and how things were going to wrap up. This was a book that just took hold somehow.

So will I read the other books in the series? Yes I most definitely would. I think Quinn has a unique way of story telling…..and any one who can keep me reading when there is really nothing to like, has earned my readership!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: Mistress of Rome (The Empress of Rome #1) by Kate Quinn

  • Kindle Edition, 483 pages
    Published April 6th 2010 by Berkley (first published 2010)
    ASIN B0030CVPT0
  • Review copy provided by: Personal collection

This book counts toward: NA

  • Hosted by: NA
  • Books for Challenge Completed: NA

Recommendation: 3 out of 5

Genre: Historical fiction, romance

Memorable lines/quotes: NA

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