Monday 24 May 2021

The Wolf Den - Elodie Harper

Sold by her mother. Enslaved in Pompeii's brothel. Determined to survive. Her name is Amara. Welcome to the Wolf Den...

Amara was once a beloved daughter, until her father's death plunged her family into penury. Now she is a slave in Pompeii's infamous brothel, owned by a man she despises. Sharp, clever and resourceful, Amara is forced to hide her talents. For now her only value lies in the desire she can stir in others.

But Amara's spirit is far from broken. By day, she walks the streets with the Wolf Den's other women, finding comfort in the laughter and dreams they share. For the streets of Pompeii are alive with opportunity. Out here, even the lowest slave can secure a reversal in fortune. Amara has learnt that everything in this city has its price. But how much is her freedom going to cost her?

Set in Pompeii's lupanar, The Wolf Den is the first in a trilogy of novels reimagining the lives of women who have long been overlooked. Perfect for fans of Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls and Madeline Miller's Circe

What did I think?

I have had a love of classical history since learning Latin at school and I've always wanted to visit Pompeii, which I did virtually through Elodie Harper's amazing book.  The streets of Pompeii are brought to life through the incredibly vivid writing and I really didn't want my visit to end, feeling rather bereft when I turned the final page.  Thankfully, this is the first book in a trilogy and I simply cannot wait for more.

Even though it is set in a brothel, it isn't salacious at all as it focusses on the women and their feelings rather than the acts that they are forced to carry out.  I had never really considered the circumstances of the women working as prostitutes or house slaves so I felt quite emotional reading their stories.  They must have been so frightened being taken from their homes and forced to do unspeakable acts over and over again.

All they can do is make the best of their new lives and the camaraderie between the women is very uplifting and heartwarming (it reminded me of the Latin phrase fortis in arduis - strong in difficulties).  The main character of Amara is such a strong character; she's not even afraid to speak out to the brothel owner.  Doing what needs to be done to survive, Amara will never stop fighting for her freedom.

I loved the little sentences at the start of each chapter, often sharing actual graffiti from Pompeii or quotes from publications of the time (such as Pliny and Ovid).  It added to the authenticity of the story and brought Pompeii back to life, making the reader feel as if they were actually in AD74 (5 years before Pompeii was smothered by volcanic ash).  The writing is completely breathtaking; there's a scene in the amphitheatre that is described so exquisitely that I could almost feel my face heating up and my ears buzzing with chatter.

The Wolf Den is stunningly atmospheric and beautifully written.  I am delighted that there are going to be more books in the series and I'll be keeping a keen eye out for the next book.  Elodie Harper has found a Pompeii shaped niche in the historical fiction genre that was crying out to be filled and The Wolf Den fits it perfectly.  It's not just for historical fiction lovers either, with such strong female characters this is a book that all readers will enjoy.

I received a digital ARC from NetGalley and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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