Book Review: Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Mistress of Rome Kate Quinn- Mistress of Rome

 Format- Paperback

 Source- Self-purchase

 Publication date- 2010

Synopsis: First century Rome: a world of depravity, blood, and secrets.  The enigmatic Emperor Domitian watches over all, fearing murder from every side . . . except from the woman who fascinates him most.

Thea is a slave girl from Judaea; musical, wary, and passionate.  Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea and her mistress will become rivals for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome’s newest and most savage gladiator.  His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life – 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 streetwise child, a Vestal Virgin.  But in the end, the life of the brilliant and ruthless Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: a slave girl who has come to be called the Mistress of Rome . . .

Based on the life and death of one of Rome’s most depraved Emperors.

 Review: Mistress of Rome is an intriguing tale of deceit, love and power in early AD. Rome. Thea is a Jewish slave girl who is mistress to the snarky Lepida Pollia and falls in love with Arius (aka Barbarian) the most sought after gladiator of the time. Despite their disturbing upbringings and untrustful nature, Arius and Thea form a strong bond and plan their lives together. When their relationship is cut short at the hands of Lady Lepida, Thea is shipped off into the world of prostitution where she has no rights or freedom.

The story is told from varying POV’s which at times a little confusing became. It was told in first person from Thea and Lepida’s viewpoint and then interwoven with third person accounts of the male characters: Arius, Marcus and Paulinus.

I was completely hooked in the first 100 pages when Thea and Arius fall in love but then they were separated for a large majority of the book which spans a decade and this was VERY frustrating! When they did reunite it was a bit of an anti-climax and I think it was even told from someone else’s POV (perhaps Paulinus’s) which kept the reader on the outskirts of the scene.

All the characters of Mistress of Rome are really interesting, some I loved and some I hated. The best way to describe Thea is survivor. No matter what is thrown in her path she pushes forward, she is so resilient. She has a very matter of fact attitude that shows through in her POV when talking about the way men use her and the realities of being a slave. Arius is a big, strong savage, but there’s a softer side to him that Thea brings out and I did invest my hopes in him and Thea finding each other and living happily ever after J

Lepida was a loathsome character throughout the whole 500 or so pages of the book and I did not sense any kind of growth in her which probably fits with her narcissist personality style with everything she ever did or planned to do was at the expense of others and the benefit of her status in society. Her husband Marcus and his son Paulinus- both at the beck and call of Lepida have minor roles in the book but have a huge impact on the culmination of events.

So, who is the Mistress of Rome? Well that turns out to be Thea who becomes a singer (still a slave though) and enjoys a higher status in society and catches the eye of the Emperor. She becomes his mistress, to the envy of many women including the vicious Lepida. The Emperor is a horrid man, controlling and abusive and it was sad to read about Thea’s experiences alongside the most powerful man of the times.

The book picked up again at about the half way mark and then I think I read the rest in one afternoon because I just couldn’t put it down. It’s a must read for any fans of early Rome and can stomach the protagonist being knocked down again and again and again before she overcomes adversity. I have the prequel- Daughters of Rome sitting on my TBR shelf and I intend to pick it up in coming weeks for another Kate Quinn hit.

4/5 rating

Purchase book @

Fishpond/ Amazon/ Book Depository UK


  • Oh, I loved this book. Loved it so much I begged my husband to read it too. There’s just enough in there that men and women could both enjoy it.

    I liked Daughters of Rome almost as much, and I’m looking forward to the next one coming out. If you enjoy these books, I highly recommend you check out Stephanie Dray as well. She writes about Cleopatra’s daughter exiled in Rome.

    • Thanks Rita, i will check out Stephanie’s titles too then. Knowing that Kate is releasing another book this year is what prompted me to read Mistress of Rome and I hope to get to the second book soon!

      I think you are right, this is a great novel for men or women, because it isn’t really a romance story although that certainly does play a role.

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