The House with the Golden Door
- Author: Elodie Harper
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Publication Date: September 6, 2022
- Publisher: Union Square and Co.
- Series: Wolf Den Trilogy #2
Thank you to NetGalley and Union Square and Co. for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
CONTENT WARNING: grief, mention of rape, mention of murder, enslavement, violence, abuse, blood
The House with the Golden Door picks up Amara’s story after she escapes a life of slavery in the Wolf Den, Pompeii’s most notorious brothel. Now her survival depends on the affections of her patron: a man she might not know as well as she once thought. At night in the home he bought for her, the house with the golden door, Amara’s dreams are haunted by her past. She longs for her sisterhood of friends—the women at the brothel she was forced to leave behind—and worse, finds herself pursued by the cruel and vindictive man who once owned her. To be truly free, she will need to be as ruthless as he is. Amara knows her existence in Pompeii is subject to Venus, the goddess of love. Yet finding love may prove to be the most dangerous act of all.
I have been drawn to this series as soon as it came to my attention, and after finishing The Wolf Den, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. And to be honest? It far surpassed my expectations. It was like sliding right back into Amara’s life, except now the stakes are even higher for Amara and the people around her.
Amara has gained her freedom, but life has a new level of complexities. She’s trying to maintain her patron’s affections, while learning more about him, and the discoveries aren’t all positive. But no matter how she feels about it, she still has to draw upon all her acting skills to make him think that she’s just as in love with him as she’s pretended to be all along, if not more.
Unfortunately, running her own household of slaves comes with additional challenges. Pompeii is ruled by a strict hierarchy of social classes, although there is some social mobility within these classes, as evidence by Amara herself. She went from being the daughter of a doctor to a slave to a brothel whore and now a concubine. Naturally, her own household slaves aren’t thrilled about answering to someone who belonged to one of the lowest classes of slaves fairly recently.
“A few months ago, she was a lower order of slave than anyone else here. Now they all have to wait on her. She can easily imagine what the others might say about their brother-whore-mistress behind her back.”
After the events of book 1, she’s even more haunted by her past, and the people from it. Despite getting what she wanted—her freedom—she’s lonelier than ever. Even at the lowest point in her life, she was surrounded by female companions who helped her get through the worst of it, and now she’s suddenly alone and feeling lost. She uses her smarts to set aside money for the inevitable day when her patron loses interest, leaving her with a cushion to fall back on, but she decides to pay up on a debt that she owes to one of her fellow whores, and invites trouble back into her life.
“‘The gods raised you to freedom. Treating slaves as equals only lowers you back to the gutter you came from.’”
I couldn’t help but look at the quote above and see Amara in a different light. While she herself has only recently been freed from her own enslavement, she has little issue with owning slaves of her own, outside of some guilt. And while she definitely treats them better than many people do, she doesn’t offer them much agency over their own life, and her main concern is becoming too much like Felix, her former owner.
The writing is beautiful, and makes it feel like I can just reach out and touch the Pompeii of 75 CE. It’s clearly well researched, from the structure of society to politics to architecture to the minutiae of daily life. And it was incredibly easy to lose myself in this story — it’s immersive and tense and emotional, allowing me to empathize with Amara. Some of her choices were bad, and some were the least bad choices available to her when she had no good options to pick from.
By the end of the book, I was both heartbroken and hopeful. I want Amara to finally have a chance for happiness, but I’m trying to stay realistic, knowing that the best outcome for her is stability and safety, not necessarily happiness. Even so, there’s a lot going on in Pompeii overall, and in Amara’s circle specifically, and I’m so curious to see how this plays out. I’ve already added the final book in this trilogy to my TBR, even though there isn’t even a name, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.
Gasp Factor: 8
Categories: Book Review
2 replies »