I was first attracted to this book by it’s setting in pre eruption Pompeii. I have a long held fascination with the place and it’s story so I absorb works of fiction and non-fiction relating to the town and it’s people. I must admit that this tale caught me unawares. I found The Wolf Den a compelling piece of historical fiction, but so much more since it is also a tale of despair and of hope, of power and it’s abuse, of love and hate, of beauty and brutality, of privilege and powerlessness, of female empowerment and female friendships. As the blurb tells us:

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 owned by a man she despises and lives as a slave in Pompeii’s infamous brothel, her only value the desire she can stir in others.

But Amara’s spirit is far from broken. Sharp, resourceful and surrounded by women whose humour and dreams she shares, Amara comes to realise that everything in this city has its price. But how much will her freedom cost?

The Wolf Den is the first in a trilogy of novels reimagining the long overlooked lives of women in Pompeii’s lupanar 

The author has cleverly engaged all the senses in telling this tale, describing the sights and sounds, smells and tastes and of course no description of a prostitute slave at work could avoid the sense of touch. For all the romanticism around our modern day view of Pompeii it is easy to forget what a seedy and unsanitory place it must have been.

I particularly liked the elements which clearly anchored the novel in time and place. Descriptions of the streets, buildings and frescoes were good but the wonderful courtyard gardens so beloved of the Roman elite were well researched too. It was also a nice touch bringing the real life Admiral Pliny into the story.

In this srongly character led tale, one of the saddest for me was the boy Paris. Born in the brothel to one of the slaves he is now also the property of the owner and is used by both paying customers and by the owner himself in a most casual and dehumanising way.

In many ways the world described in this book may seem entirely alien to us now, but I was left with the distinct feeling that if it was to be held up as a mirror to our modern world, we might be surprised at how little we have progressed.

I am certainly looking forward to the second book in the trilogy which is due for release in early 2022 and for which we are being enticed with the following details:-

The life of a courtesan in Pompeii is glittering, yet precarious….

Amara has escaped her life as a slave in the town’s most notorious brothel, but now her existence depends on the affections of her patron: a man she might not know as well as she once thought.

At night she dreams of the wolf den, still haunted by her past. Amara longs for the women she was forced to leave behind and worse, finds herself pursued by the man who once owned her. In order to be 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.

We return to Pompeii for the second instalment in Elodie Harper’s Wolf Den Trilogy, set in the town’s lupanar and reimagining the lives of women long overlooked.