Cover Image: The Wolf Den

The Wolf Den

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This book was not in my usual reading genre but the preview caught my imagination.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and the characters.  The story is well told and totally believable.
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Once the educated daughter of a doctor then slave, concubine and now whore, Amara's life has spiralled out of control, she is now in a poor brothel in Pompeii, forced to work but planning her escape.  Her small joys are the companionship of her fellow whores and she uses her skills to try to better her life. 
I loved this book, Amara is a proud and clever heroine but her situation is never downplayed and Harper does not shy aware from the violence of her life.  As well as being a cracking read, behind this is pinned some excellent research about the lives of the poor in Pompeii.  Usually novels set in Roman times are the 'sword and sandals' warrior epics but this is something different, a timeless tale of feminist yearning against a backdrop coloured in to perfection.
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Wow, what a powerful tale. It's incredibly captivating, emotional, real. Yes, the setting is different, but the writing doesn't necessarily reflect the setting and the times, so it's really easy to read. The entire story has this quality about it, that just makes you root for Amara and the other woman, because you are so invested into their fates. You see very explicit descriptions, even violent ones of their lives as whores of the brothel. You follow their lives within the brothel, the relationships between these women who are everything to each other, the relationship each of them has with Felix, their owner and pimp, and the relationship these women have with their customers.

I truly enjoyed the depiction of the relationship between the women, the bond they shared in all their tragedy as women who had nothing, but gave everything. The strength of Amara, and all of them is just breathtaking. You dive really deep into their insecurities, into their struggles with self-worth and their ability to cope living such lives.

Amara, the main character is an intelligent, resourceful, clever young woman, who'll fight and do anything to become a freedwoman.
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Let me start by saying that The Wolf Den is pretty far outside my normal genre; any historical fiction that I pick up is usually focused on a sweeping love story, and the furthest I’ll go back is 19th century. I would, however, defy most people to not be lured in by that stunning orange cover and the promise of an immersive, female-focused story set in Ancient Pompeii!

The Wolf Den drew me in completely from the first page. This is a story of a small community of women, and seeing it through Amara’s eyes was pretty mesmerising. Pompeii is almost palpable, and even after several weeks after reading it, I can still hear the bustling markets and the dock where the women go to seek out new customers. Despite being set thousands of years ago, this novel was so relatable. There’s a particular moment where Amara has to carve a message on a wall to a potential love interest, and she’s considering how long to wait before answering. If you don’t relate to those painful early stages of dating, you’re much cooler than me.

There are romantic entanglements in this novel, although romantic feels very much like the wrong word; they are instead about power. If Amara can just find a man with enough power to pay for her freedom, she can escape her existence and start a new life as a courtesan. Instead, I found absolute joy in the relationships between the five women in the brothel: Amara, Victoria, Dido, Cressa and Beronice. Their situations have shoved them together in a way that moves straight past friendships to sisterhood, and I loved hearing about their different backstories. I wasn’t sure how much I liked each character, except for Dido, despite admiring their strength and resilience, but ultimately the lack of anaesthetising was quite refreshing. Women are so often criticised for not doing something with enough niceties or grace, but at the very bottom of an unforgivingly patriarchal society, the only way up for the She-Wolves is for them to get their claws out.

There is a real sense of simultaneous hope and hopelessness to this novel. Amara doesn’t start her life in the brothel and is constantly fighting to gain some favour with Felix, the brothel owner, that might be any kind step towards freedom. Yet the story is peppered with moments of hopelessness, where she knows that submission is the easiest way forward for that one night. The most touching parts for me were the other women recognising utter defeat in one of them and leading the customers to their cells for the night; they literally sub in their own bodies to save their friends from further pain.

The amount of historical content added into this novel was absolutely spot-on for me. From the details in the brothel, to the graffiti, to the festivals they attended. It provided a fantastically-researched backdrop for the plots and people that are centered on universal experiences: the search for love and freedom, as well as achieving a class status that will alleviate the brutal existence of their current reality.

This was a brilliant and extremely entertaining debut, and I was thrilled to learn it is the first in a trilogy. I can’t wait to read more of Amara’s story!
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Amara has been sold by her mother as a slave, to a brothel in Pompeii. She lives and spends her life as a she-wolf, one of the prostitues for Felix, who is her pimp and the owner of the Wolf Den. 

Wow, what a powerful tale. It's incredibly captivating, emotional, real. Yes, the setting is different, but the writing doesn't necessarily reflect the setting and the times, so it's really easy to read. The entire story has this quality about it, that just makes you root for Amara and the other woman, because you are so invested into their fates. You see very explicit descriptions, even violent ones of their lives as whores of the brothel. You follow their lives within the brothel, the relationships between these women who are everything to each other, the relationship each of them has with Felix, their owner and pimp, and the relationship these women have with their customers. 

I truly enjoyed the depiction of the relationship between the women, the bond they shared in all their tragedy as women who had nothing, but gave everything. The strength of Amara, and all of them is just breathtaking. You dive really deep into their insecurities, into their struggles with self-worth and their ability to cope living such lives.

Amara, the main character is an intelligent, resourceful, clever young woman, who'll fight and do anything to become a freedwoman. 

I personally felt it had a great pace, it kept me hooked and wanting to read on, simply to find out what happens with each and every one of them. It's definitely different to what I have read before, and it's refreshing to read a story that focuses on women in this setting.
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Firstly, a huge thank you to Head of Zeus and NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. 

CW: slavery, suicide, domestic violence, rape, murder, sex trafficking

I have been dying to read this novel since I heard about it last year. Pompeii is somewhere that I have always been fascinated by, so I was thrilled to see that Harper has brought so many frogmen women to life, all based on graffiti at the Lupanar.

All of the women in the novel were brilliantly crafted, each one had a unique story and personality that truly brought the novel to life. It's so impressive how Harper portrays these women as normal friends, even though the situations that have led them all to meet and work together are far from normal. Although the subject matter of the novel is heavy to say the least, the women’s interactions with each other were still lovely to read. To picture them laughing and joking together to get them through the days and nights was lovely. It also made these scenes even more bittersweet and powerful when you are reminded of the situation that they're in.

Amara was such a perfect protagonist for this novel, even if, as a character, she was imperfect and had flaws. I loved and admired her loyalty to her friends as well as her determination to be free - even if some of the means she went to were very troublesome. I also loved Dido and seeing her grow over the course of the novel. Victoria, on the other hand, was not shy at all and truly knew how to play the game and yet, there were moments where Harper showed us the scared and vulnerable side to her.

What surprised me the most about the novel was the fact I found it very difficult to hate Felix, the owner of the brothel. Yes he's abhorrent who does, and says, terrible things and yet he is so complex and you occasionally get glimpses into different sides of him. They are never enough to make him as likeable as the women but enough that you wonder how he became the way he did. In fact a lot of the recurring male characters were rarely portrayed as the villains which was such an interesting choice, but one that made you take a deeper look into the society as a whole and that not everyone or every action could easily be categorised as good or evil.

The pacing of this novel was brilliant, going from settling the reader into the day to day lies of these women to something more plot driven. I could have easily read another 400 pages of their lives and not be bored. There are some heavy and heartbreaking scenes but everything has been done with a purpose. Whilst this novel does focus on slaves in a brothel, Harper has carefully considered each scene and only gives sex the briefest of torches when truly allows you to focus on the character.

Overall, this is a fantastic and powerful novel in many ways. All the women have easily worked their way into my heart and I'm so grateful to Harper for introducing the world to the possible women at the Lupanar.
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Who knew a book about a group of enslaved prostitutes in Pompeii would be so utterly captivating?! This is a book that shows the darker side of life in Pompeii, the ill treatment of women, the brutality, the fears, the sleazy characters, and more importantly, the women who find themselves working in the brothel and their backstories and how they become a little family to help them get through each day in a world that is extremely unfair.

At the heart of the group is Amara, who has ended up at the brothel despite a positive start in life. But in her she has a fight and spirit that seems to infect some of the others, as they deal with the horror of their days by supporting one another, using humour as a tool to deflect the bad and just being there for one another and looking out for each other.

You really do empathise with the despair of these girls - there is no way out, and what they have to put up with from their boss or clients just makes you sick to the stomach. They are commodities and there is no compassion for them as human beings whatsoever. But they share a bond as women and that is what gets them through each day, despite the jealousies that can sometimes bubble up.

The author has done a wonderful job of transporting you back in time - you can almost hear the noise on the streets and the smells in the air. A wonderful piece of historical fiction and I really cannot wait to see what Elodie comes up with next!!
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This book is an absolute work of love. Elodie Harper’s research is razor sharp and meticulous and she magnificently balances historical fact with mesmerizing fiction. The story of the people of Pompeii who live in the shadow of Mt Vesuvius engulfs you and sweeps you away. We all know the story of Pompeii but this beautiful book offers up an untold story of this tragic city that is so much more.

Set in the infamous Wolf Den brothel, the lead protagonist is Amara, who was sold into slavery and it is through her eyes that we experience both the brutality of The Wolf Den, but also the strength and friendships of the women there. It’s a fascinating read on so many levels, the story of Amara is absorbing and drives the narrative, but also experiencing the life of Pompeii in all its glory through Amara eyes, its wealthy classes, its street and it’s festivals is stunning.

A class act of a book. Totally mesmerising 4 out of five
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Wolf Den takes us into the brothels of Pompeii, look elsewhere if you want a Roman Shades of Grey.  Here we meet the enslaved women forced to work in the brothels and their struggle to escape.  So good and so engrossing that I very nearly missed my bus stop
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Set in a Pompeii brothel, The Wolf Den is enlightening, disturbing, harrowing and heartbreaking. It gives a jarring insight into what it was like to be a woman in Pompeii, especially if that woman happened to be sold into the sex trade. In so doing, it reflects what it means to be a woman now, especially one who is used to achieve other people's means. Harper cleverly brings a contemporary feel to a historical setting, which only makes it more addictive. The reader cares about these women; we want to know that they all end up safe, but do they?

Issues of gender, class, freedom, agency, abuse, family and loss are all discussed here. Perhaps in the era of #freebritney, we need this book more than ever.

A truly great read. My only complaint was that I I wasn't ready for it to end when it did! This book is quite something. Read it or regret it.
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A mesmerising story of survival set in Pompeii’s Lupanar (brothel), giving a voice to the she-wolves who were enslaved there. Gritty, heart-wrenching, and a powerful reminder of the strength and resilience of women. 

I love handselling The Wolf Den and discussing how women are reclaiming their history through fiction.
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I really wanted to love this book, but it didn't quite live up to my expectations.  I liked the way that the story of the group of prostitutes in Ancient Pompeii was told in a way that didn't require graphic descriptions of their activities with their clients.  But the story became so character-focused that when I put it down for a while, I wasn't really compelled to pick it back up, except to be able to tick it off my reading list.
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This was not quite what I expected - I have been reading a lot of Greek/ Roman myth retellings focusing on the women of the period, so was looking forward to this, but it was a bit more of a thriller/ violent story than I expected. The setting and historical period was brilliantly brought to life, but the frank depiction of the sexual abuse, trafficking and violence that is obviously a huge part of life as a prostitute in a Roman port town meant it felt like a very modern story. I don't personally tend to read crime novels with these sorts of elements in, but I could manage it. The plot was gripping and I learned a lot about Pompeii!
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I found Wolf’s Den to be a challenging read. There are many scenes of sexual violence, and the quite frankly horrifying experiences that some of the characters go through while not described in gory or salacious detail meant I felt the need to put the book down.

That I picked up it again is a testament to the gripping plot and the engrossing characters. Determined Amara, gentle Dido, self-assured Victoria were my favourites. Felix is truly detestable as the owner of The Wolf Den, a ruthless pimp and loan shark that controls his brothel through physical and psychological abuse. I wanted to scream at him (and worse) because of some of the cruelty he inflicts.

It is not all darkness and despair. Ultimately Harper has written a book about survival. The extraordinary instinct humanity has to find a way to survive even in the direst circumstances is a thread that runs through the story. There is plenty of humour in the book, much of it from Victoria, who is a bit like Samantha from Sex in the City, constantly making vulgar comments and egging the rest of the gang on. Amara is a smart and resourceful protagonist that is easy to root for, and most moments of levity involve her bonding with the other sex workers under Felix’s yolk.

In parts, it reminded me of Sansa POV chapters in Game of Thrones. The constants anxiety of hiding emotions, the mentally exhausting process of plotting and planning, the dread of not knowing who to trust. Like Martin’s, the research that Harper has done makes the world of Pompeii rich and palpable.

As a historical novel, Harper has written something remarkable. It is a piercing look at how sex and power are intertwined and how both genders use one as a tool to gain the other. What Amara and the other sex workers in the Wolf Den are subjected to by men is abhorrent. Harper writes superbly well, showing a deft hand at creating characters that get under your skin in both good ways and bad. I’m not sure I enjoyed it, but it has lingered with me.
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This book was absolutely incredible and I loved every second of it, even the end which was an utter rollercoaster of emotions (more on that in a second). 

I loved the character of Amara and reading about the events through her perspective, her desire to be free and her hatred for Felix really driving her to make the choices she does for good or for bad. I really enjoyed her dynamic with the other women in The Wolf Den and how that changed throughout the book as circumstances changed and certain things unfolded. Dido was my second favourite character because she was just so sweet and I felt for her throughout the entirety of the book, a nice contrast to the strength Amara exuded which made their friendship even better. Felix, as well as many of the other men in the book, was awful and did not have my sympathy at all, especially after what happened at the end of the book. Pliny was perhaps the most decent man in the book after Rufus and even they were not great. 

I liked how the book took place over the course of a year as we got to see into the lives of people who have not been really looked at before, something that I love as someone who is not only interested in Ancient History (I literally am planning my whole life on it) and especially learning more about women in the classical world. Elodie Harper wrote such a compelling narrative around a lot of subject matter that wasn't the most pleasant. There are probably quite a lot of trigger warnings for this book, especially around sexual acts and violence, so please go and read those because a lot of this is quite intense. And oh my lord those final chapters were super intense, a lot happened in a short space of time some of it good and some of it bad and then that ending was so much and it was just absolutely amazing. I feel like I need a sequel but also I loved how it ended with Amara and where she ended up.

The writing itself was jsut incredible. As I have said, Elodie Harper has done such an incredible job crafting this narrative and creating these characters. I adored how at the top of each chapter there was a piece of Latin literature or Pompeiian graffiti as I felt that it both gave authenticity to the novel and also made me very happy. This is honestly just such an incredible piece of historical fiction and I think that you all need to read it!
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This book was a fantastic read, truly a compelling piece of work. As I was reading this book, I felt as if I had been transported back in time, I could almost feel and see things exactly as Harper intended. Her descriptive writing and dialogue go hand in hand to transport the reader and enable them to be submersed into the story, almost as if you were looking down on the scenes being played out before you. 

Due to the nature of the book, there is a lot of sexual activity and in my opinion, sexual exploitation. As per the blurb, we know that Amara is sold into slavery, yet she finds herself sexually exploited and trapped in a live she was not promised. Harper does not shy away from the horrors these women are living through. Instead, she tells this story with a brutal honesty. Parts of this narrative were hard to read, yet I felt this made the reader truly understand how tragic times were. Throughout this story I rooted for these women, for the sense of sisterhood that had been created, for the love and freedom they so desperately longed for.


Dislikes
As above, the only dislikes for me were the scenes of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. I understand that the whole book is based around sexual slavery, nevertheless it doesn't make it any less easy to read and digest.


Final thoughts
I am so glad that The Wolf Den is the first instalment of what will be a fantastic trilogy. This book was filled with power and strength, yet it portrayed the cruelty and suffering these women faced with an abundance of realism. I look forward to the next book and discovering what the she-wolves will get up to next!

Thank you to NetGalley, Head of Zeus and Elodie Harper for allowing me to review this book prior to publication.
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Amhara is a prostitute but keeps her soul and her ambition to be more and to find love in whatever form that takes. Life in her Pompeii brothel is not easy but she survives and plots her escape into another life that she controls herself.. In the same sort of vein as Circe I became enthralled by her story and I’m looking forward to the next in the trilogy. Loved it.
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This was a dark and disturbing novel. It wasn't the kind of book I would normally go for but I found it compelling and readable.
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This was a incredibly emotional and riveting ride of a book. We're faced with women sold into slavery in Pompeii and forced to sell themselves to the men in drinking dens and brothels. Through this we see their pain and hurt and humiliation but also the strength and solidarity between them. What they go through is unthinkable and the ways they cope to get through it are written fantastically. 

It's not an easy read by any means. It's not short of tragedy or violence. Some of it was genuinely difficult to read. But these women are fighters and find ways to look after each other and ways to create support systems. In a world that completely works against them, Amara looks for ways to break free and doesn't forget her worth. She refuses to back down and is willing to take some gambles along the way in a bid for freedom. 

This was immersive and felt like a real window into that time and place. I can't quite say that I enjoyed it (I still feel unsettled from the experience) but it was deeply effective and had me feeling so much for all of these women.
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Owned by a man she despises and enslaved in one of the many seedy brothels of Pompeii, Amara knows that her chances of a shot at freedom are slim. Sharp, clever and resourceful, she is forced to hide her talents and bide her time. But when an opportunity to rise higher in Pompeii’s social ranks, Amara finds hope returning to her.

In The Wolf Den, Harper brings a new perspective to the famed port city of Pompeii. Amara and her fellow she-wolves (brothel slaves) drift through the city day after day, night after night, observing the daily routines of free citizens, scouting out potential customers and gossiping about women from the rival brothel.

This is a difficult book to review, because it was an uncomfortable read, though I don’t think I would have wanted it to be anything else. Harper doesn’t shy away from the tough subject matter of life for a brothel slave, and parts of the novel are truly harrowing to read. At the same time, I wish it had been slightly less graphic; at times, the horrors Amara and her fellow she-wolves were made to endure seemed almost gratuitous.

That said, there were several parts of the novel I did enjoy. There’s a great deal of genuine warmth and sisterhood between several of the women of the brothel, and Amara herself was an excellent character - cunning and self-serving but also kind.

The Wolf Den isn’t a particularly fast-plotted novel, and the pace often drags, though I felt as if it was supposed to - we’re thrown into the lives of Amara and the rest of the she-wolves, and subjected to the same endless, monotonous days of hardship as they are. Still, I did feel that the novel would have benefitted from being a little tighter paced.

Overall, The Wolf Den is an uncomfortable read, but well-written, and gives a much-needed voice to the women of antiquity who are often forgotten or used as a tasteless punchline.

Many thanks to Head of Zeus for providing a copy of The Wolf Den. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.

Publisher: Head of Zeus
Rating:  3 stars | ★★★✰✰
Review cross-posted to Goodreads, Amazon and Paperback'd Reviews
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