I’m going to preface this review by saying that I’ve never read “Jane Eyre,” unless an abridged chapter book version of it counts. A quick skim through Wikipedia tells me that “Within These Wicked Walls” is a fairly loose retelling, but fans of “Jane Eyre” need notworry;: this story stands incredibly on its own.
The story has a fantastic setup, one that I’ve never seen anything quite like (although, admittedly, I don’t read much historical fantasy). When protagonist Andromeda arrives at the Ethiopian mansion of a young English heir to perform an exorcism, she has much to worry about. The heir, Magnus, is cursed by the Evil Eye, but this curse is stronger than anything Andromeda has ever seen. And to make matters worse, he’s almost certainly falling in love with her.
This book is incredibly chilling — one of my pet peeves in fantasy is when the worldbuilding is too descriptive. Lauren Blackwood manages to give you just enough to feel a sense of the environment without overwhelming you with details. Said another way: the vibes are so creepy.
The prose, too, is beautiful. I’m quite used to the bright modern voices of YA contemporary novels, so when I delve into any other genre, I’m pretty much always wowed by the difference in tone. Blackwood’s words make this story transcend into an all-encompassingly glorious experience, one that sucks you into Andromeda’s world and makes you forget that you aren’t actually in Victorian-era Ethiopia.
At the end of the day, though, I am a romance enthusiast, and the romance in this book was delightful. Andi and Magnus’ banter is hilarious, and their growing love for each other feels so real and beautiful. The thing about fantasy (and many other genres) is that you never know for sure if the love story will work out — unlike in contemporary romance where you’re basically guaranteed a happily ever after — so you have an added level of suspense, wondering if the characters get their happy ending.
But do they? I can’t say.
“Within These Wicked Walls” comes out on Oct. 19, 2021. I received a copy from the publisher, Wednesday Books (an imprint of St. Martin’s Press at Macmillan), in exchange for an honest review.