(Cover picture courtesy of Kate Quinn’s website.)
An exciting debut: a vivid, richly imagined saga of ancient Rome from a masterful new voice in historical fiction
Thea is a slave girl from Judaea, passionate, musical, and guarded. Purchased as a toy for the spiteful heiress Lepida Pollia, Thea will become her mistress’s rival for the love of Arius the Barbarian, Rome’s newest and most savage gladiator. His love brings Thea the first happiness of her life-that is 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 Vestal Virgin. But in the end, the life of the brilliant and paranoid Domitian lies in the hands of one woman: the Emperor’s mistress.
After reading and enjoying Kate Quinn’s latest series, the Borgia Chronicles, I decided to go back and try some of her earlier works. I mean, she wrote about Renaissance Rome well, so why not ancient Rome too?
As it turns out, Kate Quinn is comfortable in either era. I was surprised the most by her writing, which makes you feel like you’re there. You can hear the roaring cheers in the arena, smell the stench of Rome in summer, etc. Her writing isn’t as polished in her debut as it is in her other books but I still really enjoyed it and she is still very good.
I like how she wound history and her own story seamlessly into a coherent narrative. Of course there’s no evidence for some of the stuff that happens in the novel but Kate Quinn acknowledges that in her Historical Note and explains her reasons for adding or leaving out certain things. In the end, she gets the feeling of the period across to the reader and has obviously done her research about the details of ancient Roman daily life. That’s what’s really important to me with historical fiction.
Her characters are most definitely memorable, Thea especially. I’m a sucker for the person who (sometimes unintentionally) goes from the lowest position possible in society to being the most highly coveted society figure as Thea does. Still, being the Emperor Domitian’s mistress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and suddenly all of the separate paths of the narrative start to collide. It was interesting to see how each person Kate Quinn gave readers an insight into took part in the plot, even Lepida (in her own way). On the surface some of these characters are simply archetypes but Kate Quinn gives them so much depth that you barely notice.
This is a really good novel considering it was a debut novel and I can’t wait to read the rest of Kate Quinn’s Rome series.
I give this book 4.5/5 stars.