The Temple of Fortuna ends Elodie Harper’s trilogy about Amara, an enslaved prostitute in Pompeii. These books are thoroughly modern, looking at self-determination of women in a society known for its patriarchy. Most of all, Amara is a survivor. This makes her a great leading lady, complex and selfish, manipulating those around her to achieve her goals and ensure her survival.
In The Temple of Fortuna, we leave behind the shores of Pompeii for Rome. Amara has the support of a new patron, strong relationships with fellow courtesans in positions of power and a new life, far from the brothel – and far from Felix, the pimp who runs it. Only one thing is missing in this new life: her daughter. And so she is drawn back to Pompeii in 79 AD.
As readers, we know what’s coming. We have been anticipating and dreading this moment since the beginning of The Wolf Den. Harper manages to write about the infamous eruption of Vesuvius in dry prose, keeping the focus on her cast of characters rather than the sensationalist event itself. The dread is palpable, and the ensuing chaos brings out both the best and worst in people.
Here, more than in the previous books, we see Amara’s true nature as a survivor. She takes what she can, and fights to make the best of whatever situation she currently finds herself in. That makes for interesting and fast reading, with twists that – while not completely unexpected – bring anticipation and tension to the reading experience. Arguably the best element of The Temple of Fortuna is the way we get to see familiar characters take on new roles. It was great to spend more time with Julia and Livia, two women living together in a sapphic-coded relationship and Britannica, who goes from prostitute to gladiator. These are just two examples of many more, but these examples show Harper’s attitude to gender roles well. Taking what is an utterly modern narrative using contemporary language, she manages to show the parallels with issues we still have to deal with today.
This can be frustrating or exhilarating by turns. The Temple of Fortuna is a strong book, but it is not a perfect one. The contemporary language seems jarring in a few scenes. Amara’s desire to thrive sometimes overrides what may be a more logical path. Her choice will always be freedom and self-determination over anything – or anyone – else. Still, being frustrated with her and her choices is the mark of a well-written character and makes you root for her throughout the series, even when the reader doesn’t agree with her choices.
The Temple of Fortuna is a fitting conclusion to an iconic series. Bringing ancient Pompeii alive in a palpable way, combining the seriousness of historical fiction with the fuck the patriarchy energy of mythological retellings, Elodie Harper had created a remarkable, unique series.