What to buy in May? The Wolf Den by 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.

As soon as I heard about The Wolf Den, I knew it was a book that I just had to read! I went to Pompeii back in 2019 for the first time and fell so completely in love with the atmosphere and echos of the past that still rang throughout the surprising huge site that I had planned to go back again last year to introduce friends to the wonders of the ruined city. Unfortunately, COVID-19 put paid to those plans so we didn’t return and don’t see ourselves returning till next year at least now. Our main reason for going had actually been for a topic being covered by my granddaughter in school so that she could see the mosaic patterns and art throughout but we both got so much more out of it than we expected. The Wolf Den gave me another chance to visit Pompeii but in another time and looking at it from a very different perspective.

The Wolf Den is a stunning start to this trilogy featuring the forgotten women of Pompeii. Sold by her mother into slavery, Amara ends up being bought by Felix and enters the sex trade as a prostitute working in a brothel known as The Wolf Den. Her relationships and friendships with the other women who live and work there are at the heart of this ambitious novel and we can only hope that Amara will be able to escape from the life she has found herself living. She is beautiful and desirable but beneath her obvious attributes lay a clever, determined and strong character who will never give up her dream of becoming free. Although her life revolves around pleasuring the many different classes of men who live in Pompeii, these acts aren’t graphically described although there is some sexual language used of course throughout.

The setting of Pompeii pops out of this book almost like a 3D picture book with the beautifully descriptive narrative bringing it visually to life with a stunning accuracy. People may think Elodie has used artistic license with some of the places the girls visit such as the “fast food” places but these definitely existed as I know from personal experience! And I loved seeing the city a few years before the event that we know is ahead, watching the citizens go about their daily routines, and also following characters who have ended up there through no choice of their own as many inhabitants weren’t local but had journeyed from other countries due to the position of the city in relationship to the trading of goods and, of course, people.

I adored this book and read it with a ferocious interest in the outcome for these women. Their friendships and social interactions kept them feeling alive and seen in a society where prostitution was just seen as another trade. The graffiti around the city is used throughout The Wolf Den and woven into the storyline to bring it further to life for the reader but it’s the women themselves who stay at the heart of this wonderfully crafted novel and following their personal journeys felt like a privilege. I can’t wait for the rest of the trilogy and await book 2 with very little patience! Haunting, empowering and brutal-one of my books of the year!

At the “McDonalds” of Pompeii

Elodie Harper is a journalist and prize winning short story writer. Her story ‘Wild Swimming’ won the 2016 Bazaar of Bad Dreams short story competition, run by The Guardian and Hodder & Stoughton and judged by Stephen King. She is currently a reporter and presenter at ITV News Anglia, and before that worked as a producer for Channel 4 News.

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I am a Norfolk girl living in leafy Cheshire with my grumpy Scotsman. A mum and nana who lives for my family but who is also addicted to reading (and Marmite!) I will read almost anything but my preferred genres to review are psychological thrillers, crime procedural novels or women's fiction. My kindle is my life but I also have a substantial bookshelf in my cosy reading room where I can go to escape the stresses of family life with plenty of tea and chocolate. I am a member of netgalley and bookbridg. I review on Amazon, where I'm a Top 500 reviewer, and Goodreads. You can always find me over on Twitter @jocatrobertson for any review requests.

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