‘Wildblood’ by Lauren Blackwood: A spine-tingling dark fantasy filled with terrible beauty

This Wildblood book review is a spoiler-free look at Lauren Blackwood’s sophomore novel, which follows a young woman as she navigates the treachery of a dangerous forest and the people hellbent on conquering it.

This first thing I want to say about Wildblood is that it comes with a slew of trigger warnings, including blood/gore, physical/sexual assault, sexual trauma, and references to suicide/suicidal ideation. For a full list of triggers, please see the author’s website.

I typically do not have too much trouble with any sort of body horror, and in fact, the premise of this book was part of what drew me to it in the first place. However, I will admit that I did find myself struggling with the character’s sexual trauma. Throughout the book, plenty of men touch and manipulate Victoria in ways that were difficult to witness, though the author does a fantastic job of balancing her continuous trauma with a renewed sense of inner strength. It takes time to come to terms with these kinds of violations, but there’s no doubt in my mind that eventually they will be distant memories for Victoria.

Lauren Blackwood’s first book, Within These Wicked Walls, was my favorite book of 2021, and so I knew a Wildblood book review would was in my future. Though the two books are unrelated, both of them have a similar voice. With complex heroines, interesting love interests, and a touch of magic, I’m beginning to understand what to expect from a Lauren Blackwood book—and that only makes me more excited to pick up the next one. If you enjoyed her debut, I’m sure you’ll find something to love about this one, too.

As a Wildblood, Victoria can manipulate blood—her own, her enemies’, even that of other creatures and insects. It is a violent ability, and it should come as no surprise that those who do not have this power covet and fear it in turn. As terrifying as Wildbloods are, however, they are extremely useful to the Exotic Lands Touring Company, which sits on the outskirts of a Jamaican jungle teeming with deadly animals and ghostly monsters.

Victoria was kidnapped at six years old and forced to work for the touring company. Though her story is not unique by any stretch of the imagination—the touring company is filled with children and young adults who have experienced similar horrors—her light skin and the strength of her powers make her stand out amongst the other Wildbloods. Enslavement and colorism play an important part in this book, and though it is tough to witness everything Victoria goes through on a daily basis, I appreciate that the author didn’t shy away from the realities of the time. At the same time, there are also moments of community and genuine love, like when Samson braids Victoria’s hair into a protective style or when we witness a stranger’s kindness.

Ostracized by her fellow Wildbloods due to the strength of her power and considered a Rare Beauty by the touring company, Victoria has not experienced much gentleness in her life. Though people often disappoint her—or do much worse—she has found a home in the jungle. While most fear the forest and its secrets, Victoria has embraced them as her own.

The jungle is so much more than a collection of trees. It is alive in a way that’s both terrifying and beautiful. River Mumma, a powerful spirit that lives in the water that flows through the land, can hypnotize and drown you with a single look. Monsters can be as large as a raging bull or as tiny as a butterfly, but each of them are dangerous in their own way. And then there are the spirits, which are not bound by physics and can steal your soul between one breath and the next.

wildblood book review

I love reading stories about enchanted forests. There is something inherently magical about nature, and Wildblood takes it still further, forcing us to question whether we find the jungle terrifying or mesmerizing. With Victoria leading the way, it’s hard not to see its beauty, though this book is not without tragedy. The jungle cannot be tamed, and even though the River Mumma favors the main character, she cannot always convince the jungle to spare her charges.

Despite these dangers, plenty of people want to see the forest for themselves. There is a road running through the jungle that is more or less safe. The Wildbloods still carry salt to keep the spirits at bay, and everyone must wear incense to ward off deadly insects, but as long as they stick to the path, most everyone comes back alive.

The problem is that Thorn and Badger do not want to stick to the road most traveled. Their destination lies at the heart of the jungle, and they’ve hired the touring company to get them there and back safely. Victoria knows this is an impossible journey, but she doesn’t have much of a choice. She is the strongest of them all, the only one the jungle talks to, and if she has any hope at a promotion, she’ll need to do as she’s told. If it were just her life at stake, she might’ve passed on the opportunity, but a young boy she considers her little brother isn’t suited for this life, and she’s working hard to find a way to set him free.

It’s difficult to see Victoria work within the confines of her enslavement. This is not a life she would wish on anyone, and yet she thinks more about the others than herself. She is used to pain and humiliation, and you can tell her station has worn her down to a point where she can no longer see the light of freedom beckoning her forward. I don’t want to give too much away in my WildBlood book review, but if you’re planning on reading it, I feel the need to tell you that Victoria is a complex character who lives a difficult life. She is distrustful and inconsistent, and yet an optimist despite everything that’s happened to her. I do not see any of these qualities as a flaw in the writing, but rather the character herself. Overcoming any kind of trauma is not a linear experience, and Victoria’s is still so fresh in her mind. Perhaps that kind of narrator won’t be for everyone, but I found it relatable and was satisfied with where she landed by the end of the story.

There are several men in this book that are important to her for different reasons and to varying degrees. The boss is cruel, and yet he holds the fate of her future in his hands. Dean, his second in command, betrayed her and yet she must obey him at every turn if she wishes to receive her promotion. Samson and her are close, sometimes bordering on the romantic and sometimes more familial. Bunny is essentially her little brother. And Thorn, though a stranger, has captured her heart in his hands.

Thorn is Victoria’s opposite. He is happy and boisterous, loud and adventurous. There’s always a song on the tip of his tongue, and when she thinks of him, it’s like standing too close to the sun. But instead of burning her, there is a warmth between them that she has never experienced before. It’s not hard to understand why she’s hesitant to get to close to him after all she’s been through and what’s on the line.

The plot, as I’ve said previously in this Wildblood book review, is straightforward. It begins at the trading company and ushers us quickly into the jungle, where we step off the path and into a brand new world. Complications arise before they even leave for their expedition, and it only gets more cutthroat from there on out. Though I enjoyed the romance and Victoria’s inner monologue, the setting was what initially drew me to the story and it’s what kept my attention the whole way through. With spine-tingling twists, high stakes, crushing blows, and euphoric peaks, I had no trouble devouring this book from start to finish. My only wish is that we might visit the jungle again to uncover more of its secrets.

‘Wildblood’ published on February 7, 2023

Buy Wildblood by Lauren Blackwood from Macmillan, Bookshop.org, Book Depository, or Amazon. You can also add it to your Goodreads list.

If you enjoyed this Wildblood book review, look for more recommendations on our books page.