Elodie Harper took us by storm when she released The Wolf Den in 2021, following Amara, a prostitute enslaved to Pompeii's lupanar brothel.An entertaining firecracker blazing with wolfish verve, the series continued to deliver an adrenaline charged and gripping story with the release of book two, The House with the Golden Door a year later. Now the final instalment in The Wolf Den Trilogy is imminent, The Temple of Fortuna is released on the 9th November.
“Immersive story-telling, coupled with meticulous research and exuberant characters that had us hooked from the series opener” - perfect words from our Expert Reviewer Joanne Owen to describe our Series of the Month.
Elodie Harper is a journalist and bestselling author. She is currently a reporter at ITV News Anglia, and before that worked as a producer for Channel 4 News. The Temple of Fortuna is the final book in her bestselling Wolf Den trilogy. The first book, The Wolf Den, was a Waterstones Book of the Month and a Sunday Times Top 15 bestseller, and the second, The House with the Golden Door was a Sunday Times Top 10 bestseller.
Keep reading to learn more about Elodie Harper and the creation of The Wolf Den Trilogy and shop the books at the bottom of the page.
While we eagerly await publication of the third novel in the dazzling Wolf Den trilogy (and what promises to be an explosive finale), could you share what first enflamed the story? For example, did you discover something special during a visit to Pompeii?
I have been fascinated by the Roman world for as long as I can remember and studied Latin for many years, continuing at university as part of my English literature degree. I loved the subject but always felt frustrated by the lack of information on the experiences of women and enslaved people. In recent years that has changed quite dramatically, with a new focus on both groups in academia and archeology, but this isn't as true for fiction. I chose to write about Pompeii because the site is unique in what it can tell us about ordinary people; the volcano preserved mementoes from the lives of the elite and the enslaved alike, from the graffiti they wrote on the walls to the taverns where they drank. The lupanar (brothel) was particularly interesting to me because I feel the women who worked there have been objectified both in their own time and ours, and I wanted to tell their stories from another angle. To focus not so much on the sex work, but on all the other aspects of their experience - their relationships, their hopes and the moments of happiness they would have sought out, as we all do.
Could you share something about the trilogy’s historic context in relation to slavery, and how Amara is able to shift her status? How she moves, in her words, from being one of “Four penniless slaves sucking off idiots for bread and olives. What a life”, to finding agency.
Most enslaved people never gained their freedom but there were exceptions, as proven by the existence of freedmen and women in Roman society. Some enslaved men who worked in close connection with their masters - such as Cicero's secretary Tiro - gained their freedom as a reward for loyal service. For women one route was to gain your freedom through your role as a favourite concubine - although such relationships between free men and enslaved women were usually ones of sexual exploitation. Amara's story arc of finding a wealthy patron while working as a prostitute is therefore not impossible, but stretches the luck and conventions of the time to the limit. Even as a freedwoman however, her agency has limits. All freed people were considered to owe considerable financial, professional and moral obligations to their patrons.
Staying with Amara, how did you work to create such a brilliantly rounded, authentic character, in terms of avoiding slipping into “badass heroine” clichés, and showing her unlikeable and vulnerable aspects, as well as her admirable, inspirational impulse to survive?
All of us are only as 'good' or as 'bad' as the choices we face - and sometimes life presents us with no 'good' choices. Through the trilogy Amara gains increasing agency (and therefore greater responsibility) for her actions, but in The Wolf Den in particular, she has very few options. Her decision to survive, and to do whatever she can to get out of the situation she finds herself in, means she is obliged to be pretty ruthless. Her situation defines the choices she makes as much as her character. When she is a freedwoman in The House with the Golden Door, Amara's choices become less about pure survival and more about what she considers will make her life worthwhile. In her case this means pursuing love, both platonic and romantic, in spite of the risks these relationships pose. For Amara to act from a place of need rather than power is not very badass, but I wanted to reflect the fact that trauma generally makes people more vulnerable rather than less. Her impulse to survive is still very strong however, and I think this comes through in The Temple of Fortuna.
To what extent do you think the predicaments of the women of the Wolf Den resonate today?
My aim in writing the trilogy was to immerse myself as much as possible within the ancient mindset, so my starting point was always to question what the experiences and emotional world of women at that specific time might have looked like. Once I started writing however, it was impossible not to see modern parallels. In particular by writing about the complex psychological bonds that may have developed between enslaved people and their owners or courtesans and their patrons I could see parallels with modern women's experiences of sexual violence, coercive control and abusive relationships. Also whenever you write about the past I think there is always a balance between looking at the values and customs of the time, and the aspects of human nature that don't change. The need for love, respect, control over one's own body and life, are timeless, and so these are the central preoccupations of the characters in my trilogy too.
Do you regard the trilogy as feminist?
Both yes and no. The characters in the books are not Feminist. I was very careful to avoid Amara or any of the others striving for agency in an anachronistic way that envisioned women as oppressed within a patriarchal system because none of the women would have had access to this belief! So just as Amara strives to be freed without questioning the morality of slavery as an institution (and she goes on to own other people herself, once free) so too her power struggles with Felix or Rufus are not seen as a male/female power struggle. Women and enslaved people absolutely DID strive for power and agency in the Roman world, but it was on an individual basis, rather than one that questioned the entire system. On the other hand, I am a Feminist, and as the author of the trilogy my own sense of the world is obviously a part of how and why I chose to tell this particular story.
Which kind of scenes flowed most freely as you wrote them? And which were more challenging to write?
I enjoy writing anything with dialogue or humour in it, so those aspects of the books always flowed. I also love the process of weaving historical research and primary classical texts into the narrative - so descriptions of Pompeii, oblique allusions to Latin writers, or any scenes involving Pliny were great fun to write. On the other hand, writing about sexual violence is quite tough and I find action sequences more challenging than scenes which are primarily emotional. I was also quite intimidated by writing the section set in Imperial Rome, as this is such a famous world which has been reimagined many times in fiction before.
What have you learned as a writer through the experience of writing the trilogy? After having immersed yourself in the Wolf Den world across three books, how does it feel to have completed the trilogy? Was it a wrench to leave the world? Do you plan to return to it?
One of the technical skills I learned in writing the trilogy was the importance of detailed planning. This was essential both to speed up the writing process and also to carry story arcs across all three books - I didn't want to write myself into a corner and kill off someone I needed later! I tend to be pretty obsessive about my research and so it does feel strange to leave Pompeii behind, as its been such a big part of my imaginative life for the past four years. I'm absolutely thrilled readers have been so supportive of the trilogy and it is both nerve-wracking and exciting to conclude Amara's journey, knowing that this means something to people who have invested their time and enthusiasm in following her story. I didn't realise I would find it a wrench to leave the world until I wrote the last line of the epilogue, which I confess made me cry. I am not planning on writing any sequels but...
I am staying in the Roman world and writing Boudicca's Daughter, which is set over a decade before the action in The Wolf Den. One character from the trilogy - Britannica - will have a cameo role as a child but the books are not otherwise connected. As the title suggests, the primary focus is on the Iceni Queen's daughters, rather than Boudicca herself, and the action takes place both in Britain and Italy.