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. – Goodreads
If you’re looking for a quick, easy, happy read—pass this puppy up, because it’s a bundle of sadness and hard times. I guess that’s the story of ancient Rome, amiright?
The book follows three mistresses of the insane Emperor Domitian. It’s written in first-person for each of them — Thea, a Jewish slave singer, Julia, the emperor’s niece, and Lepida, a rich girl who used to be Thea’s owner.
Out of the three, Julia was my favorite. She was pretty much a strong, badass lady. I can’t go into any more detail than that or I’ll ruin it.
Thea was my second favorite (even though she moaned constantly in the book—every time something happen “Thea let out a moan”. I swear. So much moaning.) She was also strong and resilient, and put up with a ton of shit over the 15 years that the book spanned. I desperately wanted her and Arius to have a happy ending and their pain just spanned for sooooo long. And she had to deal with being forced into prostitution and being the emperor’s mistress while he basically physically and sexually abused her. Terrible.
Lepida was a total B. I wished I could just skip her chapters because she was an awful person. Selfish, manipulative, and just…ugh. All around terrible. She didn’t care who was killed or hurt as a result of her schemes to rise to power.
The worldbuilding was good. For many scenes, I felt that I had a good understanding of the scenery and what it all looked like, especially the fights in in Colosseum. The violence and gore was super easy to visualize…guts and blood all around!
It was very slow in many parts—to a point where I legit thought the book was at least 600 pages. I would have DNF’d if I hadn’t dropped $8 on this.
Overall, I love historical fiction—but this book didn’t do it for me. It was a little too long and drawn out and painful for me. I rated it a 2/5 on Goodreads.