Book Review

The Wolf Den

The Wolf Den

  • Author: Elodie Harper
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: March 29, 2022
  • Publisher: Head of Zeus
  • Series: Wolf Den Trilogy #1

Thank you to NetGalley and Head of Zeus Publishing for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

CONTENT WARNING: slavery, violence, trauma, vomit, rape, murder, blood, suicide

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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?

Set in Pompeii’s lupanar, The Wolf Den reimagines the lives of women who have long been overlooked. 

In a word, WHOA! The idea of a book set in Pompeii was extremely intriguing to me, and I had high hopes for this one. Hopes that were met and exceeded. It’s a rough, brutal story, that matches the rough and brutal setting. I’ve always been interested in Pompeii, and after reading this, I had the urge to do a little research. Did you know that Pompeii didn’t have any kind of police force? It’s blatantly clear in this story.

It’s hard not to empathize with Amara. She went from being the cherished daughter of a doctor, with the ability to move in society, to the lowest of the low — an enslaved prostitute in the town brothel. Her situation, and that of the other women enslaved in the brothel is horrific. The story deals with some heavy topics like rape, violence, murder, and suicide, but it’s an emotional journey as well.

Felix, the owner of the brothel, is a cruel and dismissive man. He has these women under his thumb, forcing them to do anything he asks. But the most interesting part was the elements of approval that all the women seek from him. Despite his volatile temper, he’s capable of showing them some tenderness on rare occasions, even if we know it’s his attempt at manipulating them to continue doing his will, and creating a situation where the women hate him, but simultaneously crave approval from him.

“Even though she hates him, his contempt is still wounding. It hurts, the way he touches her as if she were nothing.”

While the women are enslaved and forced into prostitution against their will, Amara burns with a will to gain her own freedom. She wants to have some measure of what she used to have — freedom and the possibility of finding love, even if her options are limited. And the worst part for her is that she can’t see a way out. There’s no way that she can ever buy back her freedom without outside help.

“She understands the terrible, ceaseless pressure of never being able to make as much money as you need, of knowing you are running out of things to sell.”

In addition, if she ever does gain her freedom, she won’t be able to just step back into society anymore. The stigma of being a prostitute runs clear throughout this story, and Amara shuts down her emotions, because she knows she won’t be able to get what she truly wants, which are freedom and love. It leaves her with a lot of rage simmering inside.

“She tells herself it is easier not to want, not to feel. When you cannot make your own choices, what good is wanting anything, or anyone?”

There’s a lot of action in the story, and historical accuracies that were amazing to see brought into the present day. Starting each chapter is a quote, whether it is from preserved graffiti on the walls of Pompeii, or from literary works from Roman society. I was surprised at how quickly I got into the story, and couldn’t put it down. The characters are so vividly and realistically created, and I was consistently fascinated by how these strong women cope with unimaginable loss and trauma, yet still manage to find joy in little things. The theme of friendship among women is clear and present throughout the pages.

Overall, while it’s a harsh, brutal, and difficult story, I fell in love with the characters and can’t wait to see what comes next for them. It’s written beautifully, allowing us to see both the emotional disconnection that the women have from their situation, and how they manage to live a life without hope. 

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