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REVIEW: The Roman’s Virgin Mistress by Michelle Styles

Dear Michelle,

The Roman\'s Virgin Mistress (Harlequin Historical Series)Thanks again for sending me an advanced copy of your newest Mills and Boon/Harlequin Historical release “The Roman’s Virgin Mistress.” As you hoped, I can honestly say that a) I enjoyed it and b) I think you’re still improving with each book release. The cover is lovely too. You certainly have been smiled upon by the art department because they’re showering you with coverluv. But where’s Silvana’s stolla? It kind of looks like she’s just got a palla over her tunica interior. Or is this what those naughty Baiae party hostesses wore? No wonder the town was known as more relaxed than stuffy old Rome. ;)

Scandalous!
Silvana Junia knows what the gossips say about her–" and doesn’t care! Until a mysterious, dangerous stranger rescues her from the sea, and she’s instantly drawn to him.

Notorious!
Lucius Aurelius Fortis is rich and respected. But his playboy past could come back to haunt him if he cannot resist his attraction to beautiful Silvana. And in the hot sun of Baiae, their every move is watched– .

Outrageous!
Tempted beyond endurance, Silvana will become his mistress. But she has one last shocking secret–"which will change everything between them!

I really admire how you focus on different locations instead of just Rome and pull interesting historical facts into the plot. While I’m reading and after I finish one of your books, I’m always heading back to my computer to Google things you’ve mentioned and used. From your descriptions, Baiae sounds like a wild resort town. Roman matrons must have worried when their sons headed down for a vacation. I think you’ve really done a good job working facts about Roman life into this book. The bits about the gaming, dancing (as viewed by Roman society) and inheritance were well done. I’m not so sure what Roman dancing actually looked like. Conga line? Free form? Are there any comparable modern games to twelve lines or latrunculi? Have you tried to make fish sauce? Dare I ask if you’re better at spinning than Sylvana? Does anyone still produce Falernian wine? And how exactly is Baiae pronounced?

Sylvana is a heroine who seems gounded in historical accuracy. For all the freedoms she has in Baiae as opposed to Rome, she’s still very much under the care of the men of her family. Even if she often turns out to be the most level headed and practical of them all. There were a few times when she skirted close to being the dreaded Martyr Romance heroine but I was glad to see by the end of the book that she looks like she’s taken off her rose colored glasses where her younger brother and flighty uncle are concerned. I’m not sure whether or not her brother has actually started to grow up or if he’ll stay a wastrel but perhaps Lucius will continue to kick him in the right direction.

Lucius has just the right amount of arrogance to convince me he’s a high ranking Roman. From all I’ve heard, none of them were cream puffs and with his slightly jaded background, I could see his suspicians of Sylvana.
But for all his hardness, he was still endearing in a kind of clueless and bumbling way in his relationship with Sylvana. I hate it when the hero and heroine are unequal in their personal relationship but you evened their playing field nicely.

As I infered, I wasn’t as happy with younger brother Crispus or spendthrift Uncle Aulus but as the story mainly focuses on Lucius and Sylvana, that’s okay. The villain is also fairly generic though his doxy was deliciously floozy and I picked up on the clues linking to his villainy. But as you don’t throw a host of red herrings at us, that wasn’t hard to do. The chariot race was fun to read about and proves once again that men have always wanted prove who’s got the fastest set of wheels. I do wonder why you haven’t written a novel set in Roman Britain since you live so close to Hadrian’s Wall.

There is good news for North American readers as this book will be released here as well as the UK (and in fact is already out as an ebook from eHarlequin), unlike your last release, “A Noble Captive.” Should they rush out and get it? I think so if they want to read something that’s not a Regency and explores an area of the Roman Republic outside of Rome itself. But oh the title! What’s next? “The Tribune’s Twins,” “Gladiator Daddy,” “The Patrician’s Hidden Heir,” “The Centurian’s Secret Baby”…oy. B for “The Roman’s Virgin Mistress.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

14 Comments

  1. Keishon
    Jun 30, 2007 @ 07:11:39

    Ah, that title. I was sorta worried. Thanks for reviewing this!

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  2. DS
    Jun 30, 2007 @ 09:37:08

    Wow, I nearly got sucked into trying to figure out what looked so wrong about the heroine’s name in terms of Roman Republic nomenclature. Luckily I pulled back at the last minute.

    That is a horrid title though.

    Also Fortis isn’t — *slaps my hand and pulls out some real work to do*

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  3. Jayne
    Jun 30, 2007 @ 17:09:26

    Michelle says at her blog that her m-i-l’s neighbor will buy any M&B book that has “virgin” or “mistress” in the title. I don’t think Michelle named the book but someone at M&B must know that lots of Englishwomen would buy it for the title alone! ;)

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  4. Michelle Styles
    Jul 01, 2007 @ 01:56:07

    Jayne –

    Many thanks for the review.
    I can confirm that the title and the cover are decided at editorial level. The author has little to do with it. With the cover, I asked if I should fill out an art fact sheet when I turned in the revisions and was told that it had already been commissioned. Luckily my editor spent a great deal of time looking at photos of Baia (the modern name ofr Baiae).

    Let me see if I can answer a few questions.
    1.With Silvana’s name (as the poster above implied), it is not strictly accurate but I am using Cattalus and to a certain extent Circero as a guide. Silvana is her pet name and would not appear on any official document. it is why I put the name before her family name. If it had been after, that would have implied that it would go on an official document which clearly it wouldn’t. Indeed Fortis’ aunt only calls her Junia.
    Cattalus called his mistress Cynthia in his poetry. What did he call her in real life? Cynthia or Clodia. There were three sisters of that family in that period with very strong personalities. I would guess that everyone knew which one he was speaking of. Circero called the same woman *Ox-eyes*.
    A small conceit, but having read the gravestones, as well as the Vindolanda letters, I refuse to believe that society who would name female slaves and pets would only refer to their wives and sisters in private conversation as simply Woman of xyz family. Hopefully you can tell that I did think long and hard about it before I did it that way.
    It also makes for easier reading. Lindsey Davies also does this in her Falco series btw. And the main thing for me is to make the period accessible. Basically I am going for an authentic feel, rather than a 100% accuracy.

    2. 12 lines is like backgammon, probably close to the variation called acey -duecy. Latrunculi is basically Roman chess. The site for Roman board games appears to have vanished.

    3. The dancing I asume was like Italian or Greek folk dancing. The tantarella for example. It can get pretty wild. The grape vine step seems to appear often in that sort of dancing and it is sort of what I envisioned.

    4. I suspect I spin rather worse than Silvana. I can spin a bit but once my concentration goes, the spindle goes bouncing across the floor!

    5. I have recipes for fish sauce, but haven’t made it. Thai fish sauce is probably pretty close to the real thing. Or salted anchovies which are used in some Italian dishes…

    6 Growing ancient wines is difficult, partly because there are so many different varietals and the crosses that have happen over the years. And graps grown on prephyloxora vines taste differnt. Some of the Spanish wines from Jumia (?) region are still the old varieties. It is a heavier wine and I can see why people used to cut it with water.

    I hope this all helps.

    Many thanks again.

    All the best,
    Michelle

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  5. Janine
    Jul 01, 2007 @ 09:48:58

    Fascinating details. Jayne or Michelle, is the book out in the United States yet? If not, what is the American publication date?

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  6. Jennie
    Jul 01, 2007 @ 09:50:50

    I’m looking forward to this one. Anything set in Rome is a shoe-in with me. Glad you asked so many questions, Jayne, and that Michelle came to answer them! Very interesting.

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  7. Michelle Styles
    Jul 01, 2007 @ 12:39:21

    The Us publication date is 1 July. So it should be in the bookstores that carry Harlequin Historicals as well as the usual online places such as e-harlequin, Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

    All the best, Michelle

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  8. Janine
    Jul 01, 2007 @ 13:40:17

    Oh good, thanks.

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  9. Jayne
    Jul 01, 2007 @ 18:09:39

    Re;women’s names. I’ve always thought that Roman society must have had some way of distinguishing the daughters all named for their father and given the exact same name. I mean, I wouldn’t want to go through my whole life known as Lucia Minor to my eldest sister’s Lucia Major.

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  10. Give Yourself an Early Ebook Christmas Present | Dear Author: Romance Book Reviews, Author Interviews, and Commentary
    Jan 04, 2008 @ 09:57:55

    [...] The Roman’s Virgin Mistress by Michelle Styles [...]

  11. Moth
    Jun 06, 2008 @ 17:02:31

    I’m just wondering if I’m the only person who thought it was Heyer’s “Faro’s Daughter” set in Rome?

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  12. Jayne
    Jun 06, 2008 @ 18:31:42

    Moth, I haven’t read “Faro’s Daughter” so can’t comment on that. Interesting comparison though.

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  13. Moth
    Jun 07, 2008 @ 20:29:02

    To me, the similarities between “Faro’s Daughter” and this book were very striking.

    But here, I’ll sketch out the plot of “Faro’s Daughter” and people who’ve read this one can draw their own conclusions.

    In “Faro's Daughter” the heroine was orphaned and went to live with her flighty aunt. The flighty aunt, in an attempt to get out of debt, bought a huge house and turned it into a gaming hell for the fashionable young gentlemen of London. Every night they open their doors and the heroine presides over the gambling and the entertainment. Bills are still piling up though, because the aunt is extravagant and has no head for money. The mortgage on the aunt's house is held by an unscrupulous gentleman who is hoping to use the threat of foreclosure to make the heroine his mistress. It should also be noted that the heroine is virginal and pure but has still managed to get the reputation of being a loose woman of low morals for acting as hostess at her aunt's “card parties”.

    The hero gets pulled in when his young cousin falls for the heroine. The young cousin tells his mother he means to marry her. The mother, our hero's aunt, calls the hero in to extract his young cousin from the heroine's “clutches.” To pay the heroine off if he has to, if that will get rid of her.

    The heroine, of course, has no intention of marrying the inexperienced young cousin- even if he is rich and all his money could solve her family's problems. She has every intention of telling the hero this to reassure him but he treats her so badly, like a loose woman, in fact, that she decides to teach him a lesson by pretending to be exactly what he thinks she is- a coarse, money-grubbing harpy. This, of course, leads to many misunderstandings and scuffles on their path to true love.

    Does it sound familiar?

    Other things: the hero challenges the heroine to a game of cards for very high stakes. He lets her win at first and then bleeds her for an obscene amount of money to “teach her a lesson”. She agrees to is high stakes even knowing they can’t afford it. The heroine has a selfish younger brother in the army who doesn't appreciate her and needs her to come up with the money to buy his expensive commission. There's a phaeton race with the hero. The hero eventually wins the mortgage off the evil suitor on a wager.

    I really liked Gladiator's Honor and her other books sound interesting too. This book just irked me, though. It was far too similar to me to just be a coincidence and she doesn't acknowledge Georgette Heyer anywhere in the book, not the dedication or the author's note. It just seemed inappropriate to me and it's been bugging me for awhile. Anyway, sorry for the rant.

    Thanks,
    Moth

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  14. Jayne
    Jun 08, 2008 @ 11:14:11

    It certainly does appear to be similar in quite a few ways to “Faro’s Daughter.” Perhaps Mrs. Styles will be able to answer your post.

    ReplyReply

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