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- Within These Wicked Walls – Audiobook Review
Author: Lauren Blackwood
Published by: Wednesday Books
Audiobook published by: Macmillan Audio
Narrated by: Nneka Okoye
Publish date: October 19, 2021
Audience: Young Adult
Rating: Three Stars
A lush, fantasy re-telling of Jane Eyre, what’s not to love about this one? And in the first half, I was all in. I wanted to know how the horrors were going to be resolved, I was loving the slow burn romance, but then… suddenly everything went blah.
I’m not entirely certain what went wrong, but I’m pretty sure it happened around the snowball fight. I’m not sure because I actually DNF’d this book for about a month with only 20 minutes left in the audiobook. Then I figured, you know what? It’s only 20 minutes. I’ll just effing finish it. So I did. But the result is that I don’t have a super clear memory of what the details.
Within These Wicked Walls is available in libraries and bookstores everywhere. Read more reviews on Goodreads.
Within These Wicked Walls hooked me from the first scene. There was something so visceral about the idea of staving off hunger because of the constant load of sand that she ate just by breathing in the desert. That’s one thing that Blackwood has down: voice. I mean, she could transport me to just about anywhere with just a few sentences. And that skill is super consistent, all the way through the end. Including that last 20 minutes that took me a month to listen to.
The magic system of the evil eye and the amulets is simple and digestible. It doesn’t take a lot of explaining at me to be on board. Magnus is cursed, the rooms in his house are all cursed in unique and terrifying ways. Andromeda has to go through and cleanse the house. Easy peasy, super interesting. Another check in the Pros column.
And Andy’s first encounter with Magnus was just perfect. They had great chemistry, and their characterizations were steady. I was definitely looking forward to enjoying their love story. And that love story really delivered for a long time.
And for the slow burn horror mystery? Hell to the yes! Blackwood really built an atmosphere in that house and around Saba, the housekeeper, and Magnus.
And Jember was incredibly fascinating to me. His black and white, uncaring, survivalist attitude made him an interesting mix of cruel and caring. And Andy’s personality reflected that harsh upbringing beautifully without diminishing her own likability.
It all fit together so perfectly. Such a perfect setup.
I didn’t read much about this book before checking it out, so I can honestly say I picked up on the Jane Eyre homage organically. It was in Andromeda’s cold detachment and perfect propriety. It was in her place in the house as an employee and an equal, though not so high-tone as the owner and his friends. Shoot, I even saw Jane Eyre’s Mrs. Fairfax in the housekeeper – whose name I honestly can’t remember now. Another problem with taking a month to finish the last chapter.
But then I realized Magnus’s mansion was called Thornfield, and I just thought to myself… this can’t be a coincidence. And sure enough, this isn’t just an homage to Jane Eyre. It’s straight up a fantasy re-telling.
So that’s another pro for this book. Blackwood did Jane Eyre right. She got the atmosphere, the relationships, the characters just right.
So what went wrong?
Like I said before, it happened right around the part with the snowball fight. It was about in the middle of the book, and Andy went to cleanse a room where it snowed constantly. Magnus found her there, and they devolved into a silly, pointless, cliche snowball fight. It was almost cringey.
But I’d loved the book so far. I overlooked it.
Except… the cringe just kept happening? The chemistry that defined Magnus and Andy’s relationship in the first half of the book completely disappeared, and suddenly I didn’t give a shit anymore. Magnus devolved into a whiny, selfish little bitch, which is SO not Mr. Rochester. And Andy became a lovesick romantic, except I still don’t know what she liked so much about Magnus. Even disregarding his new whiney personality, after their first few conversations their relationships became very shallow. Their conversations become little more than empty professions of love with no foundation. No staying power.
So by the time I reached the climax, I just wasn’t that bothered about “turning the page,” or whatever the equivalent would be for an audiobook. I already knew how Jane Eyre ends, and I’d already spent enough time with these characters that I was just over it.
Why did I categorize Within These Wicked Walls as destructive romance? Well it has nothing to do with Magnus and Andy. In fact, it has nothing to do with romance at all. It’s to do with parental abuse. And damn, does this book have it in spades.
Jember is an asshole. They don’t sugar coat that. He’s not a good father. He’s cruel and even physically abused Andromeda. I won’t go into all the details of the parental abuse she suffered at his hands, but trust me it’s a lot. And after she leaves, he gets a new child mentee, who gets treated exactly the same way. Jember doesn’t learn a goddamn thing.
And by the way, he sends that kid out to accomplish some impossible task, then never mentions him again. That poor kid literally got abandoned.
Now, I’m okay with Jember being an asshole. I’m even okay with his abuse of the children. I mean, I don’t approve of it, but this is fiction. Child abuse is a real thing. It exists. I don’t support censoring it from fiction.
The part that lands this book so decidedly in the Destructive category is Andy’s response to his abuse.
Now, at first it makes sense. This is the only family she’s ever known. Victims of abuse very commonly stick to their abusers and even feel genuine love for them.
But it was those last 20 minutes when Andy decided to choose to love him, and why? Not because he deserved it. Not because he redeemed himself. He never does. But she decides to love him because this is the end of the book, and we need reconciliations and a happy ending.
“You called me your daughter earlier, did you mean it?”
“Yes, I meant it.”
“Then I love you Jember. You’re my father, and you’ve done what you could. That’s all I could ever ask for.” Jember was a despicable excuse for a human sometimes. But he took care of me. Cared about me in his own way. And if I was going to die, I wanted it to be for… my father, not for a man I resented for withholding love from me. Besides, his efforts to keep me alive was love, if that’s all we had. And that was all we had. So I would love him, because love made me braver, and I would die brave if nothing else.Within These Wicked Walls – Lauren Blackwood
That last line is beautiful, I have to admit. But for her to forgive him and transform him into someone who “did the best he could” just because of the word “daughter?” Naw. In a previous scene she literally ran from him expecting to be beaten.
Warning! Small spoiler below for Jember – though I totally saw it coming…
Again, this is not unreasonable behavior for a victim of child abuse. But the book portrays this forgiveness as the right and correct thing to do. It’s a “beautiful moment,” and a turning point in their relationship. And it’s all a setup so that when he later dies protecting her, the reader can be sad about it.
Well, I mean. I wasn’t sad. And I also wasn’t super impressed with Andy’s screaming, “Don’t die!” Bitch let him die. He kind of deserves it.
So while I can’t say the behavior is unrealistic, I want any readers to be aware that this is a toxic relationship, beginning to end. It is not admirable or desirable in an abusive parent.
All of the above is more than enough to make this a three star, so my plot concerns are just a drop in the ocean. Mostly the plot works. It makes sense, things progress normally. But I made it all the way to the end, and I never got any clear answers about where the evil eye came from, who Jember fought in his early days, how Saba’s difficulties were his fault, or any of it. All that stuff got brought up in the first half, but never satisfactorily answered in the second half. It’s almost like Blackwood spent a ton of time getting the first half right and then phoned it in on the second half because of a looming deadline or something.
Whatever the cause, I’d definitely read another of Blackwood’s books just for her writing voice. The skill is there, I just got let down by Within These Wicked Walls specifically.
What did you think of Within These Wicked Walls? Let me know in the comments below! And Don’t forget to check out my other reviews before you go.