Kate Quinn’s MISTRESS OF ROME (EMPRESS OF ROME #1) narrated by Elizabeth Wiley

Before I talk about this stunning debut novel, I would like to give a shout-out to the narrator, Elizabeth Wiley. Our pleasure in the audiobook experience is so dependent on the narrator. Recently, I was listening to something that was completely spoiled by the narrator’s strange way of pronouncing various words. (It was such a jarring experience.) However, my pleasure in Kate Quinn’s novel was considerably enhanced by Ms. Wiley’s narration. She gave a pitch-perfect rendition of Lepida Pollia, that conveyed all the entitlement, avarice, and superficial charm of a spoiled rich kid. I loved hearing the dialogues between Lepida and her slave Thea, as Thea’s voice conveyed a subtext of subversive laughter, which she could never have expressed without being beaten & abused. (It is also a nice touch that both young women are the same age – 14 years old – at the start of the novel, so that the fortunes of rich and poor girls are well contrasted.)

This novel has several points of view, which gives a richness and depth to this book. We see the Roman world of 82CE through the eyes of Lepida, and her slave. We are immersed in the world of gladiators, Praetorian guards, senators and their families. We see the games. We see the gladiators training.  We see supper parties in the triclinium. We even see the Emperor Domitian.

Ms. Quinn has managed to write a powerful narrative that is not ruined by too many characters, or lack of tension. She knows how to pace a novel. She knows how to milk incidents for tension. And oh, is she good at plot twists! I loved the hours I spent being immersed in this world. Five stars.