Within These Wicked Walls by Lauren Blackwood is a romantic and magical retelling of the classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This imaginative debut fantasy novel reimagines the heroine, Andromeda, as a debtera, or exorcist, who must save Magnus (aka Mr. Rochester) from the Evil Eye’s manifestations that are killing everyone around him in his cursed house. Andromeda is a powerful exorcist who wants to defeat the demons in Magnus’ house.
Blackwood has created a heroine in Andromeda, an orphan like Jane Eyre, but who has greater agency to influence her survival. Blackwood never specifies the novel’s setting, but the names and vocabulary suggest an Ethiopian or similar East African country. For example, Blackwood describes the characters eating injera, which is an African fermented flatbread. The setting adds to the mystery and establishes the societal differences between Andromeda and Magnus as he is part of the land-owning class and she needs a patron to support her work.
Blackwood understands fully the power of the horror genre, and her creepy descriptions of the Evil Eye’s powers are chilling. Andromeda must defeat the Evil Eye so that it does not kill anyone else, especially Magnus. Blackwood writes, “The house was holding victims hostage, but I had a feeling there weren’t going to be any happy reunions after the Evil Eye was cleansed. The house was consuming them. Sucking the corpses dry and—my God—regurgitating the victims’ blood?” Entire rooms bleed when the evil threatens, which warns Andromeda to create amulets that will cleanse the house and stop the evil from killing anyone else. The house and the Evil Eye are sinister evils to defeat, and Andromeda’s magical ability to protect Magnus transforms a classic tale of love into a fantasy romance.
I enjoyed the suspense and mystery of the curse and how Andromeda battles evil. Blackwood successfully keeps the reader engaged with the plot. However, the romance was a bit cheesy at times. Overall, I admired this book because Blackwood has created a heroine who is a powerful, Black woman and the heroine of her own story. Andromeda doesn’t need anyone to save her; she herself is the agent of change and hope.