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Month: May 2021

Bookstagram Tour: The Wolf Den by Elodie Harper

Bookstagram Tour: 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 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!

Review: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

Review: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

‘The first daughter is for the Throne.

The second daughter is for the Wolf.

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.’

In the world of For the Wolf, the second daughter of the ruling family is always destined to be sacrificed to the Wolf and sent into the Wilderwood to meet what is assumed to be a horrible end. The daughters never reappear and the indication that the next should be sent is in the fact of their birth; from the moment they take their first breath, second daughters are designated as the sacrifice from which there is no escape. Red has lived with knowing that she will be sent into the wood her whole life, and while her sister cannot bear the idea of losing her, she is unflinching in the face of her fate and seemingly almost looking forward to the day that she will leave her family and step into the wood. Though her mother is cold and distant from her, perhaps owing to some sense of self-preservation and need not to become attached to her, it is not because she wishes to escape her family that she cannot be deterred from going through with it, but because she feels she is growing increasingly dangerous and poses a threat to those around her, as a magic she cannot control has long taken up residence beneath her skin.

It’s suggested that the story is Red Riding Hood retelling, and though there are aspects of the story that clearly extrapolate on the general narrative of that tale, the setting and the growing relationship between the Wolf and Red make it feel closer to a Beauty and the Beast retelling. I’ve said many times before that I adore a good retelling and For the Wolf is no exception to this, for me. In-fact, it’s one of my favourites from the past few years and I truly loved the worldbuilding and the relationships between Red and the Wolf, and Red and her sister. I’m very glad that it’s not a standalone and that there will be more story from this world.

For me, one of the best features of the narrative is the magic surrounding the Wilderwood and the Shadowlands, and how each element grows to be reflected in the sisters. Both Red and Neve are determined to protect each other, despite the distance between them and the assumptions about Red’s fate, and in refusing to give up on each other each get themselves drawn into magics and along paths that they can’t entirely control or completely understand, and while Red is supposed to have been the sacrifice, it truly feels as if Neve is the one who becomes it. There is a hopefulness to Red’s side of the narrative, despite the constant threats to her life and her worries about who or what she is, and a feeling that she is building a family and a future, however short that future may be, whereas watching Neve make the decisions she does and be manipulated by others builds a sense of increasing despair to reflect her own feelings about her sister and her own position. It isn’t that Neve does ‘bad’ things; it’s that her world view has narrowed for what she perceives to be good reasons and she can’t find her way from the path she’s started down.

I loved the developing relationship between Red and Eammon (otherwise known as The Wolf) and I did enjoy the tropes involved, such as the ‘only one bed’ scenario and the marriage of necessity. By the time Red meets him, both she and the reader are perhaps expecting a monster both inside and out, and while Eammon is undeniably a monster in terms of power and physicality, this is where the comparison ends. He is simply a man with a burden, trying to do the best he can and endeavouring not to get girls like Red caught up in the fate forced upon him and them. He isn’t awful or unkind, and I think seeing this helps Red to realisations about her own power and what she has been afraid of for so long. There’s a lot to unpack in the stories, history and legends of Red’s world regarding perceptions of good and evil, and I don’t want to go into any further detail for fear of big spoilers, but this examination was another of the things about the book that I most enjoyed.

For the Wolf is out on June 1st and I highly recommend picking up a copy! It will be followed by For the Throne, expected (at present) in July 2022. Thank you to Orbit Books for sending me a proof copy for review!

Blog Tour: The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

Blog Tour: The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

‘Angrboda’s story begins where most witch tales end: with being burnt. A punishment from Odin for sharing her visions of the future with the wrong people, the fire leaves Angrboda injured and powerless, and she flees into the furthest reaches of a remote forest. There she is found by a man who reveals himself to be the trickster god Loki, and her initial distrust of him-and any of his kind-grows reluctantly into a deep and abiding love.

Their union produces the most important things in her long life: a trio of peculiar children, each with a secret destiny, whom she is keen to raise at the edge of the world, safely hidden from Odin’s all-seeing eye. But as Angrboda slowly recovers her prophetic powers, she learns that her blissful life-and possibly all of existence-is in danger. Angrboda must choose whether she’ll accept the fate that she’s foreseen for her beloved family-or rise to remake it.’

Today is my stop on the blog tour for The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec!

The Witch’s Heart is a tale that takes its inspiration from Norse mythology, which I confess did make me expect a rather formal or heavy tone, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find it a much lighter and brighter affair, the dialogue natural and engaging, while the prose is beautiful and quite direct in nature, making it very easily to envision the physicality of characters and the world around them. I have to say that the dialogue between Angrboda and Loki is of my favourite things about the book, often humorous and blunt, with a rather modern feel and perspective that brings the both of them to life. Ultimately, I made the mistake of picking up The Witch’s Heart at 11:30pm, intending to read perhaps thirty pages, and it was well over two hundred before I could put it down (and that was only out of the necessity of sleep!). I loved it and I’m going to have to read it again very soon!

Angrboda’s relationship with Loki is a difficult one that at times seems simple in its acceptance of all that is not quite normal about it, yet it is all too easy for the reader to feel conflicted about it and Loki’s treatment of her. The worst of it is that he never does seem to lie to her, too blunt and open in his observations and his lack of understanding of the consequences of his actions, but she knows too well that much of what he does is deception and for his own gains. That he loves her and his children is something that, in most instances, seems unquestionable, but this goes hand in hand with the knowledge that everything he does is with himself at the forefront of his mind. He manipulates those around him with ease and an often unsettling openness about it, and while it’s obvious that Angrboda is an intelligent woman, that she doesn’t always make the best choices for herself becomes more evident as Loki waltzes in and out of her life – and those of their children – playing at husband and father as he pleases. They accept that their relationship doesn’t look like a ‘normal’ one, and it’s Angrboda who could rage and let jealousy consume her, only she doesn’t, choosing to focus on her children, knowing full well that there will be no changing Loki. Does she really even want to change him? It’s only when the worst thing he has ever said is about their children that she finally seems to see the extent of what he is and start to decide who she is going to be.

I think it’s quite obvious from the outset who the voice is that Angrboda hears and is afraid to listen to, whether literally or metaphorically, as there is a good measure of well-crafted foreshadowing early in the novel, and, in my opinion, it adds another layer to her character as the story unfolds, in that there are untold reasons for her behaviour that even she isn’t completely certain about, yet there is a sense that she truly does know and is unwilling to acknowledge them. It’s interesting to consider just how much of her ‘slow’ recovery is a result of Odin’s punishment and the repeated burnings, or because she simply cannot bear to understand who she was and regain the power that has caused her so much distress – and only causes her more and more as she recovers the depth of it. That the reader catches on to who she is and what is likely to happen before she does essentially grants them her prophetic powers, and one of the most interesting features of the narrative is seeing her put together the pieces and what she does with the information.

Another aspect of the novel that I loved was Angrboda’s relationship with her children and her absolute acceptance of who they are and what forms they take. They are the most important people in the world to her and her simple love and acceptance of their natures impacts how the others in the story see them, meaning they are not deemed to be odd and abnormal by the few who know of them – not until it is their own father who missteps and brands them monsters. Their supposed fates are what drive her to reclaim herself and finally make her see the truth of the world and her choices more clearly, both in terms of what has been taken from her and what she has to give.

The Witch’s Heart is a beautiful, immersive read, written in an addictive style that leaves the reader wanting more. I enjoyed it immensely and highly recommend it, particularly for those with an interest in mythology. Thank you, Titan Books, for sending me an e-copy of the book for review (the book in the image is one I purchased myself) and for the opportunity to be part of the blog tour!

Review: The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird

Review: The End of Men by Christina Sweeney-Baird

‘Glasgow, 2025

Dr Amanda Maclean is called to treat a young man with a mild fever. Within three hours he dies. The mysterious illness sweeps through the hospital with deadly speed. This is how it begins.

The victims are all men.

Dr Maclean raises the alarm, but the sickness spreads to every corner of the globe. Threatening families. Governments. Countries.

Can they find a cure before it’s too late? Will this be the story of the end of the world – or its salvation?’

I did, briefly, have second thoughts about whether I wanted to read a pandemic book while in the midst of one, especially working in an environment where we’re dominated by various Covid regulations and have to be quite constantly alert for student and staff safety. However, after I started reading The End of Men, I just couldn’t put it down. I initially tried to keep to the pages per day of the readalong, but that went out the window after I set the book aside for half an hour or so and couldn’t wait any longer to read on!

The End of Men follows the years of a pandemic that only affects men, and perhaps the worst feature of the virus is that it impacts all ages, including newborns. Women are discovered to be immune to its effects, yet there is no safety is this, for it only means that they are hosts that can pass the virus on to any male family and friends. Once the virus takes hold, the end is swift and inevitable, to the extent that treatment is deemed to be useless and most men don’t seek help or medical assistance, choosing to remain with their families. The knowing what will happen and that there is no way of preventing is one of the book’s most emotionally impactful features, as women find themselves helpless to do anything but watch and wait, forced to prioritise protecting those they love while distancing themselves from others they love no less, in what becomes an increasingly futile effort to try and keep them alive.

One of the features I liked most about the book is the inclusive of documents and emails and various other communications alongside the points of view of the ‘main’ characters. It allows for a wider look at the world and what others think of the actions being taken by some of the characters that you get to know better over the course of the story, bringing you outside their heads and a glimpse of what differences there may be in what ‘reality’ really is. The multiple points of view and media releases are particularly well used regarding the eventual vaccine that is discovered and the choices surrounding it, as it seems so shocking compared to our own experience, and also not when you take into account the distribution of vaccines and which countries have access to the most doses and why. The decisions made surrounding survival and treatment in The End of Men only highlight just what the pandemic has done to our sense of community – what we hoped we had learned during our worst moments and what many people in power seem to be forgetting as the vaccine becomes more and more political.

The pandemic in The End of Men is much worse than the current one, but the nature of the response, particularly from government and officials, and just who we are encouraged to listen to, is frighteningly similar. It is women who sound the alarm in the opening stage of the pandemic in The End of Men, but the doctor who treats the first patient is ignored for reasons that men have been using to cast aside women’s opinions for hundreds of years. She is assumed to be emotional and hysterical, unable to think clearly or know what she’s doing, and her warnings are ignored despite her professional knowledge and experience. Unfortunately, I think this is something that all women have experienced more than once in the work environment, and something that isn’t likely to go away any time soon, and I found myself hugely angry on her behalf. There is more than a little irony in men refusing to acknowledge the warnings about a pandemic that is going to destroy them, simply because those warnings aren’t delivered by one of ‘their own’.

There is a huge amount of unpack in The End of Men, from ideas about gender and sexuality, to politics and morality, but I’ll have to stop here or I’ll end up writing an essay! The End of Men is an excellent and thought provoking read, and one I see myself recommending to others for a long time.

Thank you to Tandem Collective UK and Borough Press for sending me a copy of the book for the readalong!