Genre: Historical Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 4 stars Series: yes - first book of trilogy CW: assault, forced prostitution
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 as a she-wolf, 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 her fellow she-wolves, 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?
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
THE WOLF DEN gives a voice to women often overlooked in history. It follows the brutal life of Amara and the choices she’s forced to make to survive in a world where she’s valued only by how much money her body can bring in for the brothel owner.
As you might imagine, a book about prostitutes in Pompeii is a book with a lot of CW warnings (I’ve tried to cover as much as I can with some umbrella turns.) Make sure you are in a headspace where you can read a book all about sexual violence against women.
I did appreciate, though, that the actual sex scenes were not explicit, and often skipped to the morning after (etc.) It felt like it was preserving what little dignity these women had left, rather than exploiting their situation with graphic descriptions. You do know what’s happening to them, the way they’re being used and exploited by the men around them, but the specifics are glossed over (rather than getting a detailed description.)
The women in this book shine, and they are drawn with such complexity. Friendships, rivalries, just trying to get along, all jumbled up in a house where nothing is private and everyone’s actions have consequences for each other. They are the heart of the book, and Harper does wonderfully at getting you to understand and care about them – all to better put you emotionally through the wringer over events in their lives.
There’s clearly been a lot of research into the world to get all the tiny little details correct, which lends the world a rich, grounded sense. Not to mention that there are lots little shout-outs to more familiar parts of Pompeii and people that readers are more likely to know. Those “famous” parts of the city give it a sense of familiarity.
The book is set in 74 AD, five years before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. I’m very curious to see whether that disaster is the backdrop to the final book. But, until then, it’s time to read the second instalment, THE HOUSE WITH THE GOLDEN DOOR. Not to mention the uncertainty at the end about whether Amara has really got what she wants.
Read my reviews of other books by Elodie Harper:
The Wolf Den (this series):