Book Review: The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper

Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Historical Fiction

Series: Book 2 of The Wolf Den Trilogy

Publisher: Union Square Co. (September 6, 2022)

Length: 472 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I thought The Wolf Den would be hard to top, but my goodness, Elodie Harper has done it again! Earlier this year I was completely floored by the eloquence and profundity of the first book in the series, which led to its sequel The House with the Golden Door becoming one of my most anticipated releases this fall. And what can I say, but it was as utterly riveting and amazing as I’d hoped.

Before I continue though, be aware that this review may contain possible spoilers for the first book if you are not yet caught up. The story picks up almost immediately following the events at the end The Wolf Den in which we saw Amara freed from her life of slavery working as a prostitute at one of Pompeii’s most notorious brothels. And yet, for all that she now dresses in silks, eats the finest foods, and lives in relative luxury, she is still not her own woman. Amara fears that it’s only a matter of time before Rufus, her lover and the patron who bought her, will lose interest and leave her with no possessions or protection. Almost every waking moment is thus spent trying to please him and keep him satisfied, and until she can earn her own living, Amara knows she can never be truly free of her painful, brutal past.

Of course, it also doesn’t help that she has landed herself deeply in debt with Felix, her former owner and proprietor of the Wolf Den, but Amara had been unable to leave her friends behind. After managing to rescue Victoria and Britannica, the three women work to save up the money to repay their old boss, Amara using her head for business and numbers to make clandestine deals. Our protagonist realizes that to be get ahead in this world, she must be ruthless and harden her heart. Yet, against her best judgment, Amara falls in love and becomes involved in a forbidden affair, putting her newfound status as a freedwoman in jeopardy.

Once more, Harper transports readers back to first century Pompeii, a few years before the eruption of Vesuvius. For the time being though, the visions of fire and ash are still far away, and Pompeiians are still living their busy lives blissfully unaware of the fate that will befall their vibrant, bustling city. In The Wolf Den, we saw what women like Amara had to do to survive—enslaved prostitutes who were at the mercy of their masters and clients, forced to live and work in appalling conditions. The House with the Golden Door, on the other hand, showed us another side of life in Pompeii as Amara was raised to her new station as courtesan to a powerful man. No more dank bathhouses or cramped rooms for our protagonist, as she now runs in social circles which include other rich denizens of Pompeii like politicians and wealthy merchants.

That said, I worried that we would lose the spirit of sisterhood that I loved so much in the first book, especially following the loss of Amara’s best friend and her freedom from the Wolf Den. Happily, some of that loss was reduced by the presence of Victoria and Britannica, both of whom played very important roles in the plot, adding much joy and even more heartbreak. Britannica especially became a new favorite, and I can’t wait to see what more she can bring to the series.

Then there was Amara herself. The House with the Golden Door focuses on a new chapter of her life, in which she must learn to navigate the world in her new role. She thought being with Rufus was what she wanted, but the saying “be careful what you wish for” comes to mind, as she realizes her patron isn’t the man she thought he was. Admittedly, a lot of the problems she faces in this book are of her own making, as it’s clear Amara knows her greatest weakness is her soft heart and yet is unable to make the hard decisions needed to protect herself and get ahead. At times I found myself frustrated with her, but also sympathetic. For all her impulsive choices and many missteps, you couldn’t help but understand why she made them. The author did a powerful and convincing job with Amara’s character development, making her extremely relatable.

I was also mesmerized and captivated by the plot. Amara might not be a slave anymore, but her troubles are far from over. The story never lets us forget the precarious situation she is in, and even without traditional action, I found this book very exciting and dramatic. There’s intrigue, romance, and threat of danger—everything I wanted and more. Understandably, I think most people are drawn to historical fiction about Pompeii because of the famous eruption of Vesuvius, but I’m here to say who needs all that when Elodie Harper gives us something so much better—a story portraying the lives of women like Amara who fight so hard for everything they hold dear in spite of the hardships and challenges they face every day.

In short, I can’t recommend this series enough. Both The Wolf Den and The House with the Golden Door are excellent books, not to be missed if you are a fan of historical fiction, and especially if you enjoy strong female leads and stories of strength and resilience. I can hardly wait for the final book of the trilogy.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Wolf Den (Book 1)

13 Comments on “Book Review: The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper”

  1. Sounds like a favorite book is turning into a favorite series. I love when that happens. This sounds like a series I’d like to try. I’m drawn by the setting of ancient Pompeii, but I’m also glad to hear there’s so much more to the story than setting alone.


  2. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 09/25/22: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

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