Richly immersive and entirely disturbing, this beautifully written book is destined to fascinate as much as it will horrify readers as unfamiliar up-close with this subject matter and historical time-period, as was this reader.
Set in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, in the year AD 74, this book (the first of a trilogy) is terrifyingly frank – pulling the reader along, with inescapable and unrelenting force, deep into the dismal and brutal life afforded to slaves servicing clients in a tawdry street-brothel. Here “lupa” (she-wolves or prostitutes ), bought and sold like slabs of meat, live out their existence under the menacing eye of Felix, their pimp, a man as merciless as he is mercenary.
Felix’s five women – Amara (our main protagonist) , Victoria, Cressa, Dido and Beronice – each of them hideously misused, vulnerable, and tragic, must learn to cope with challenges that, for this reader, felt insurmountable. All the more revolting as it becomes clear that both Amara and Dido, born as free persons (although not Roman citizens), with loving families, and the prospect of an unblemished future – have been sold into Roman slavery under what can only be described as appalling conditions.
Each woman’s story is absolutely riveting – as different in personality as they are united in both their fight against the misery of their imprisonment and the fragility of their hopes and aspirations – it’s impossible not to be affected by their plight, which the author unfolds skillfully, amidst a horrifically-candid historic detailing of a culture that in the eyes of this reader, represents the living embodiment of humanity at its most abysmal.
Who can one really trust?
Is evil, unleashed, inevitably endemic?
Is freedom worth fighting for, at any cost?
Can hate and revenge fuel any sort of goodness?
I could not put this one down. Not for the faint of heart, this book kept me glued to a story that I wanted (and yet feared) to see through – right up to the dramatic and ultimately very satisfying ending.
A great big thank you to NetGalley for an ARC of this book. All thoughts presented are my own.