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.
(Summary from Goodreads)
So, having started this series with the third book (oops), it was nice to go back and read this one. While reading the books in this series in order isn’t strictly necessary since they are very much self-contained stories within the larger arc, it was nice to get some backstory behind the major players in Empress of the Seven Hills.
I loved all of the characters, except Lepida, who was generally an awful person. I guess there were reasons for this? But she was so awful, I didn’t care. I mean, I even liked Domitian more than her, and Domitian wasn’t the most sympathetic character, so there’s that. But everyone else, though, was great. Little Vix stole the show for me (which was fantastic because I loved him so much after reading the other book he’s in), and I loved how sassy the Empress was – an impressive feat after being married to Domitian for 20+ years.
I think the only problem I really had was Marcus’s motivations for wanting Domitian dead. I understood why all of the other characters wanted him dead, but his motivations were never really clear. Ultimately, though, that was a small problem in comparison with the sheer awesome that was this book, and didn’t deter me from being obsessed with this series in the slightest.
If you like a healthy blend of Ancient Rome, political intrigue, and romance, this is definitely a book for you.
Rating: 5/5 Stars