THE TEMPLE OF FORTUNA rating: four stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐.
Titles in the Wolf Den trilogy by Elodie Harper:
THE WOLF DEN (Union Square & Co., March 29, 2022).
THE HOUSE WITH THE GOLDEN DOOR (Union Square & Co., September 26, 2022).
THE TEMPLE OF FORTUNA (Union Square & Co., November 14, 2023): four stars
Throughout this immersive trilogy, we are always with Amara. All of her emotions, thoughts, and motivations are laid bare to the reader, and this is much of the power of the novels. No matter where Amara is in society, in the Wolf Den brothel or living in fabulous wealth as a freedwoman courtesan, we always know exactly what is driving her.
Disclaimer: Thanks to Edelweiss/Above the Tree Line and Union Square & Co. for sending me this book to me for review consideration. All opinions are my own.
The Wolf Den novels entrance because of not only the terrific characterization of Amara, but also due to author Elodie Harper’s excellent research into Pompeii: the seasons, observances, celebrations, and lifestyles of a civilization long vanished under fire and ash.
In THE TEMPLE OF FORTUNA, Amara has come to Rome as the courtesan of a very powerful and wealthy man. Having risen in status nearly as far as a woman sold into slavery can go, Amara gets a cautionary tale straight from history as Emperor Titus banishes his mistress Bernice. No matter how far a woman manages to rise, she can still fall at a man’s whim. After working at a brothel for the evil Felix, the villain of the trilogy, Amara is freed by Pliny the Elder, then becomes the courtesan of Rufus, which brings us up to the events in THE TEMPLE OF FORTUNA, but it’s only through attaching herself to a series of increasingly powerful men that Amara can secure her future.
Amara is nothing if not a survivor. Even while enjoying the luxury of the Roman court, Amara’s heart is still in Pompeii with those she loves best. The eruption of Vesuvius will test Amara’s survival instincts to the limit, and Vesuvius is not the most terrifying threat looming over Amara.
Reading in context:
The ultimate first-person protagonist of a novel set in classical times is Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus (41-54) in the masterpiece I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves (1934). Even though Amara and Claudius could not be farther apart in status, fighting the constant machinations of evil control freaks and a struggle to attain and retain power characterizes both Amara of the Wolf Den trilogy and Graves’s imagined Claudius.
For similar girl-power themes and another first-person protagonist from antiquity, I recommend the myth retelling ARIADNE by Jennifer Saint (Flatiron/Macmillan, May 4, 2021). From my LibraryThing review of the ARC on November 7, 2020:
Narrative voice is everything in a fantasy retelling written in the first person, and I slid right into the skin of Ariadne from Greek mythology in this retelling by Jennifer Saint. . . .
Ariadne and Phaedra yearn for a life that is not chosen for them by the King in a strategic royal alliance, and when the hero Perseus appears with the annual tributes for the Minotaur from Athens (in the form of young people to be fed to the monster), Perseus is determined to slay the Minotaur. Perseus promises to rescue the sisters, but one thing the princesses have learned by now is that men, and gods, often go against their word. Tales of heroes are also told, conveniently enough, by the heroes. . . .
Saint explores what true freedom and power for women might look like in any civilization, ancient or modern. It might involve not only standing up and fighting for your own destiny, but even demanding that women face up to harsh truths that support their own comfortable lives.https://www.librarything.com/work/25579436/reviews/191973981
What I’m reading right now:
WOMEN & POWER: A MANIFESTO by Mary Beard (Liverlight/W. W. Norton), 2017.
I just finished a superb novel, A TOWN CALLED SOLACE by Mary Lawson (Vintage Canada/Penguin Random House, February 16, 2021). Exceptional in every way.