Head of Zeus | 2022 (12 May) | 400p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book
The Roman city of Pompeii is enjoying its heydey and life is looking good for Amara, who once worked as a prostitute in the city’s most infamous and famous brother, the Wolf Den. She has been rescued by a wealthy man and he is now the only man she serves as one of Pompeii’s most glamorous courtesans. But she can’t leave her friends there behind. She is haunted by their continued suffering while being all too well that her own good fortune is transient. And so Amara sets out to help them, especially her closest friend Victoria, and that means she must go back into the wolf’s lair.
The Wolf Den was my favourite novel of 2021. It brought the streets and houses of Pompeii to life for me in a way no other book has done. I’ve visited the place often and I’ll never see it with the same eyes again thanks to the power of Elodie Harper’s prose and research. I was so pleased that there is more and so I couldn’t wait for The House with the Golden Door. Even before I started reading, I was stunned by the beauty of the cover. These are seriously gorgeous books!
The novels are set during the few years leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius. The fact that we know what lies in store adds such a sense of foreboding and I can’t help hoping that the author takes us right up to these events. But the novels don’t miss the drama of the eruption. Instead, the focus is on the daily lives of these damaged women, as well as on the men who own them, the men who love them and all of the other people who tread these streets as shop workers, slaves, business men, courtesans, inn keepers. I love it.
I think any novel is bound to suffer by comparison with The Wolf Den which, to my mind, is nigh on perfect. The fact that Amara has been removed from that awful brothel of the first novel, a major character in its own right, detracts a little from the power of the second. I also found the storyline involving Victoria difficult. Nevertheless, The House with the Golden Door is an excellent novel and once more it is filled with the details that make these novels stand out. There are so few good novels about Roman women or society in general. This was indeed a man’s world. And it is wonderful to immerse oneself in their stories, although everything about Amara’s life and her past is so hard. But there are moments of joy and happiness and I feel like we’re there with her for it all.
Once more, I should point out that these novels are not salacious or erotic. These might be courtesans and prostitutes but they’re also enslaved women living in a city full of life and colour as well as violence and threat. I can’t wait for the third book. I need to know what happens to Amara next. I’m hoping that in the meantime I can return to this incredible place in person myself.
The Wolf Den