‘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?’
Today is my stop on the bookstagram tour for The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper! The Wolf Den is a book that I began reading one evening, read until the early hours, eventually – reluctantly – had to sleep, and then picked up again right away when I woke up. As a Classicist, it was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and in no way did it disappoint – I simply adored it and wanted it never to end as much as I wanted to read on. The historical detail and the way in which Pompeii is brought to life in such a vivid manner is absolutely brilliant, and I cannot recommend this book enough.
The story follows Amara, who has been taken from her home and sold into slavery, and now finds herself with a new name and forced to work as a prostitute in one of Pompeii’s brothels. The man who has bought her has a cruel and somewhat mercurial nature, intent on using her to make as much money as possible, which includes encouraging her to use her intellect when it suits him, and reprimanding and both verbally and physically harming her when it doesn’t. Having taken the measure of what sort of man he is makes Amara all the more determined to achieve her freedom and make a better life for herself by any means possible.
The Wolf Den does not shy away from the brutality of Amara’s life and what it is to work in a brothel, though never crosses the line into any unnecessarily graphic depictions of what her days and nights involve. The absence of detail in this respect only highlights that it is something that she doesn’t wish to think about and cannot handle focusing on, and there is an awful bleakness in knowing what she is being made to endure in her silences and the spaces between where the narrative breaks and picks up again. The sexual violence is only one aspect of her cruel world; a world that sees her primarily as an object to be possessed and only as a woman in the rare instances in which it suits someone. Even when she exhibits artistic talent that men find pleasing, they still ultimately view her as something they want, and praise inevitably leads to being claimed and reminded of what she has become. She is never truly respected for her mind or talents and has to learn to play the game that others use to exploit her, becoming sharper and more manipulative in her efforts to free herself and find her way back to being a semblance of the woman she was before she was sold into slavery. Amara does not escape the brutality of her environment in this respect, having to make it part of herself in order to make her own way.
There are some friendships among the women that endure better than others, but it seems that many cannot afford to trust another, being that they are all rivals and need to survive; need not to be seen as weak and expendable. Their ways of caring are based around survival and may even seem unkind on the surface, especially regarding the arrival of the Briton they name Britannica. They cannot help her in any way but to let her endure it, unable to protect her without risking both her and themselves, forced to surrender to the inevitable and try to give what support they can in the aftermath. For them, it is a cycle they have seen before and are unable to escape, death or worse being the only alternatives, and while their trauma brings them together, it also creates distance and distrust, the chance for better or escape a rare and precious opportunity. As individuals and collectively, they have to take power in the small moments that they can, knowing that it is unlikely to last. Amara’s determination to get herself out of her present situation doesn’t entirely distance her from others, and while it begins to set her apart and create jealousy when its effects start to become more obvious, she never forgets Dido and seems set on making plans to assist her too, their love perhaps the most important relationship in the novel.
The Wolf Den was released on May 13th and is now available to add to your shelves! It’s among my favourite reads of this year and I’m so glad that it’s the first of a series and that we’ll get to see Amara and everyone again. Thank you to Head of Zeus for sending me a copy of the book and a parcel of goodies, and for the opportunity to be part of the tour!