ARC Review: Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood

What the heart desires, the house destroys…

Andromeda is a debtera—an exorcist hired to cleanse households of the Evil Eye. When a handsome young heir named Magnus Rochester reaches out to hire her, Andromeda quickly realizes this is a job like no other, with horrifying manifestations at every turn, and that Magnus is hiding far more than she has been trained for. Death is the most likely outcome if she stays, but leaving Magnus to live out his curse alone isn’t an option. Evil may roam the castle’s halls, but so does a burning desire.

Kiersten White meets Tomi Adeyemi in this Ethiopian-inspired debut fantasy retelling of Jane Eyre. 

CW: bleeding walls, parental abuse, dismemberment, selling of children

I can’t say I remember reading the original Jane Eyre but I have read a couple of retellings/stories inspired by the classic, so when I saw one more retelling announcement set in Ethiopia, I was immediately intrigued and very glad when I got the advance copy.

One thing I can say, this is perfect to read during spooky season. The castle in the novel and it’s owner are haunted by the antagonist, an Evil Eye which manifests in different forms throughout the castle every night, endangering its inhabitants. The author describes this eerie castle perfectly, with its many eccentric and sometimes horrifying features, which makes the building itself feel like the main character. That’s what makes this a very intriguing gothic fantasy. The plotting is also pretty fast paced, with everything moving at breakneck speeds at times, because everyone’s lives are in danger. The prose is pretty easy to read and I found myself quite engaged in this mysterious story.

Andromeda or Andi is a compassionate, brave, slightly distrustful but very loving young woman who has been through a lot of hardships since childhood, and is determined to finish this dangerous job and earn a patronage. Magnus on the other hand is the owner of the castle who has been plagued by the Evil Eye for three years and is very depressed about it. He is also a slightly pretentious and snobby rich brat sometimes, but his bad qualities get offset by his charm and wit. Their romance is definitely very instalovey but it was also understandable because they are two people who have experienced a lot of loneliness, and it’s easy to fall in love with the first person who shows some affection.

There are quite a few side characters too but I didn’t find any of them too memorable except for Saba who was sweet and extremely loving and caring, despite her devastating circumstances. And ofcourse there’s Jember, the only father Andi has ever known. They have a complicated relationship and I understand why she was quick to forgive him when he apologized after 14 years of being abusive to her. But her justification that all his abuse was ok because he was doing it out of love and to help her survive, and all his abusive teachings helped her survive when she was literally homeless and starving (because of him) – was a bit too much for me to stomach and I almost felt like she was gaslighting herself. Magnus seemed like the only voice of reason who understood abuse for what it was.

In the end, this was a very eerie, mysterious, atmospheric and sometimes horrific YA gothic fantasy novel, with very memorable main protagonists and their endearing love story. I may have some issues with some characterizations but overall it was an engaging book, and while it doesn’t have too much in common with the OG Jane Eyre except some names and the haunted castle, I still think fans of the classic will enjoy this one. 

PS: Thank you to Wednesday Books and Netgalley for providing me with this advance copy. All opinions expressed here are unbiased and solely mine.

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