Review: The Wolf Den, by Elodie Harper
This was not a good book and I did not enjoy it - it contains all of the laziness that I so abhor in a historical fiction, and also some frankly bad historical research that I might have forgiven had Elodie Harper made more of an effort in any other aspect of her storytelling.
Right, let's get to it then - all of the things about this book that I didn't like!
First of all - why did she bother setting this book in 79 A.D. Pompeii? She didn't do any research into the time period; the setting and the time was completely incidental and irrelevant to the story; and other than occasional mentions of characters wearing togas or going to the baths, the world we were supposed to be inhabiting never made itself felt. All of the dialogue was completely anachronistic, as was the behaviour of the group of women at the centre of the story. Characters spoke dialects of Latin that weren't being spoken until long after the fall of the Roman Empire. Do you know when Spanish started being spoken in a form that would actually be recognisable as Spanish? The 4th century AD, after the Iberian peninsula came under the control of the Visigoths. I'd have been more likely to forgive this kind of slight if I had gotten an indication, at any point of the novel, that Elodie Harper had decided to set her story in Ancient Rome for any reason other than to have an excuse to treat the central female characters like absolute garbage. This was basically a 21st century slavery fanfic romance that she attempted to retrograde into being a tolerable novel by backdating its setting, without doing any of the work to make that setting or time period relevant to the story. Or any basic research.
She also did that thing where other characters kept describing Amara, the main prostitute, as really clever and intelligent but having said Amara keep making stupid decision after stupid decision. Instead of having everyone tell us she's so smart, Elodie, maybe have her do one smart thing at any point in the 450 pages that this book lasted. Also on the note of characterization - she did that lazy thing that drives me absolutely bonkers, where she gave every single character only one defining personality trait and then kept harping on that personality trait for the entirety of the book. Felix is cruel. Dido is kind. Amara is smart, supposedly. And that's it - you don't get any character development or personal growth, you just get 450 pages of that one person being that one thing. People do not contain multitudes! We are only ever defined by one character trait! Nuance? Elodie Harper has never met her!
And for the love of God, Elodie, learn another insult for women than "stupid fucking bitch". When I say that she set her novel in ancient times only to have an excuse to have all her characters be awful to her main characters, this is what I mean. Every single sentence that a male character speaks in this novel contains the words "stupid fucking bitch" or "cold-hearted bitch" or threats of beating and strangulation. It was exhausting, and lazy, and so disappointing in the hands of a female author who should know better.
This book is supposedly the first in a trilogy and I will not be reading the other two. Nor should anybody read this book. It's bad.
Read Lindsey Davis's Falco series for actually good fiction set in Ancient Rome.