The Wolf Den (Volume 1) (Wolf Den Trilogy)

Written by Elodie Harper
Review by J. Lynn Else

74 CE. Once a doctor’s daughter before family tragedy forced her into slavery to a cruel pimp, Amara now lives as a whore in Pompeii. She is a She-Wolf, a “lupa,” marked by the cut of her clothes: “…they wear togas, the uniforms of men and prostitutes.” Amara’s luck might finally be changing, though, when she is invited to perform at the party of a rich freedman. Soon her talent with the lyre grants her nights away from the brothel. While she could never afford her own freedom, a wealthy patron could… but at what cost to Amara’s soul and her budding romance with a fellow slave?

Life is harsh and crass, but Harper manages to keep the focus on the characters’ emotional complexity above the acts they must perform. The struggle for the women to keep their sanity by means of friendship and small kindnesses amidst terrible cruelty is starkly explored. The others in Amara’s situation are in different stages of slavery, from acceptance to hopelessness, but they all desire one thing: a choice. The enslaved men and women are well-drawn and uniquely positioned within their place in Pompeii’s bustling community, all combining to provide a richly colored canvas of this ancient society. Amara’s intelligence entangles her in her pimp’s business accounts, but this also provides her with opportunity. As her position grants her time outside the brothel, relationships change alongside Amara’s darkening outlook. Overall, the visceral storyline weaves a soul-stirring web of intrigue. While it ends a bit more abruptly than expected, The Wolf Den is the first in a promising new series focusing on the marginalized voices of the past, and their hopes and dreams will resonate with present-day readers.