This, Kate Quinn’s debut novel, is a prime example of excellence in writing. I have seldom come across a plot so engrossing and dramatic, with each piece of the puzzle perfectly set with the other to form a whole. According to many a critic, the book is “an intriguing, intensely emotional spectacle…”; and they couldn’t have been more right! Kate Quinn has flawlessly perfected the art of bringing characters to life in her dramatic, sizzling novel. The Mistress of Rome, set in the time of Gladiators, Slaves, vain Emperors and fat, larcenous noble men, weaves tales of deceit, vanity, happiness and the ever-present hand of Karma.
Thea, a slave purchased as a ‘toy’ for a selfish, spoilt mistress rises to the height of power as the Mistress of the Emperor. Lepida, her former mistress, is the human form of pure evil. It is surprising how thoroughly evil a character the author has portrayed her. They are the same age, with roughly the same looks; yet, are as different as night and day. When Lepida, as a final act of vengefulness, sells Thea in order to separate her from the Gladiator Arius, Thea loses the only shred of kindness that was her share in a wicked world.
Here, comes the twist of fate, as both Thea (who becomes a well sought singer in Rome, changing her name to Athena) and Arius become champions of Rome and bask in the glory that comes with their success. Both catch the eye of the Emperor, for different reasons. The Emperor, being vain and selfish, sees in Arius a competitor for the people’s affections and a man blithely unafraid of the most powerful man in all the world. Thus, starts the wheel of Karma, as the wrongs of both the Emperor and Lepida start to fall down on them.
With evil deeds and countless manipulations weighing them down, it is no wonder that the biggest conspiracy plot is carried out in the history of Rome. What I love most about Kate Quinn is her ability to effectively portray how deceptive looks can be. She does this via the characters of Arius (known commonly as the Barbarian, a Gladiator who is as kind as he is fierce, with a passion to protect what is his), Marcus (a stooped, old senator who marries Lipeda on the orders of the Emperor, mistakenly believing her to be an innocent little girl, and getting his world set aflame with scandal after scandal. He is a very important figure in the end of the plot, when the tables are turned on both Lepida and the Emperor), Paulinus (Marcus’ son, who finds the light at the end of a dark corridor and finally finds the strength to stand up for himself), The Empress (who is the main leader of the insurgency into the palace which finally kills the Emperor), and Athena (originally Thea, who holds the power to kill the Emperor in his sleep).
This book is about choices, and how they affect the lives of those around us. Karma plays a stringent role in the plot, with the end of both Lepida and the Emperor being swift; alongside happiness finally bestowed upon Thea’s family with Arius; and Marcus’ family as a reward for the endless as a reward for the turmoils they went through. A long, convoluted story; yet an amazing roller coaster ride of emotions and full of turbulence.; this is one definite read.