The Roman's Virgin Mistress
When I first laid eyes on The Roman’s Virgin Mistress, I thought surely the folks at Harlequin Presents had played some kind of practical joke on the Harlequin Historicals line. What’s next? Banging the Baron? Still, I’ve read enough romance to know that the covers and titles are often vastly inferior to the contents of the book and, since I’ve enjoyed this author’s work in the past, I picked this one up and started to read. While it definitely has its strengths, the story was ultimately too stilted for me to fully enjoy.
Widely regarded as fast even by the relaxed standards of the resort town of Baiae, Silvana Junia defies the gossips and carries herself proudly while serving as hostess at her uncle’s scandalous parties. As a beautiful widow with just a hint of notoriety about her, she attracts the attention of many men, including Eutychus, a young man of patrician background bound (hopefully) for a career in Roman politics as long as he keeps himself free of scandal.
Lucius Aurelius Foris, wealthy and powerful cousin of Eutychus, finds himself drawn into the family plans to ensure that the younger man frees himself from Silvana Junia. However, when he meets Silvana, Fortis finds someone far different than the hardened, worldly creature he had anticipated. He can hardly disguise his attraction to the lovely Silvana and he enjoys the time he spends with her. Ultimately, even though it started as an attempt to protect his cousin, Fortis quickly develops an agenda of his own.
From this point, the tale becomes almost reminiscent of a standard Regency tale, complete with hapless heroines showing off their illogical loyalty to feckless relations, drawing room (or villa) party machinations, and the like. While it’s obvious that the author did her homework in researching this novel, facts are often shared in a stilted manner, jerking the reader out of the story for what can feel like a history lesson.
Despite the sometimes awkward manner of conveying facts, Baiae is an unusual and compelling setting. The Roman resort has a sometimes scandalous history and at her best, Styles uses it to create a thrilling and almost pleasantly dangerous mood for her story. The doings of Silvana Junia and her family fit comfortably into the real-life tales of the resort and if the dialogue between characters had flowed as smoothly, this would have been a fascinating tale indeed.
However, characters spouting history lessons and misunderstandings going on for far too long made it difficult for the romance to really spring to life and feel real. By the time things get to a point where readers can accept that the main characters might have feelings for each other, the book is nearly over and there is nothing to do but rush the romance. Styles does deliver a lovely ending, but I need more build-up for it to be completely believable for me
Ancient Rome’s long and fascinating history makes it one of my favorite underutilized historical periods and I am happy to see it getting more attention. Those who long for a non-Regency England read may want to check this book out. However, for me, the somewhat stilted feeling of the tale made The Roman’s Virgin Mistress one that I cannot quite recommend.