Following the success of Within These Wicked Walls, Lauren Blackwood returns with another vibrant story, this time set in a magical Jamaican jungle.

Wildblood, which is out now from Macmillan’s Wednesday Books, takes us to the late 19th century and builds a unique story that serves as an extraordinary sophomore novel after weaving the thread of the Charlotte Brontë classic Jane Eyre into an Ethiopian retelling with her debut novel. Within These Wicked Walls earned the recognition of being a Reese’s Book Club Fall 2021 YA Pick.

The new young adult book centers on Victoria, an 18-year-old woman who was kidnapped at a young age and forced to serve as a guide within a tourist company that specializes in venturing into the jungle. Except the jungle has creatures that could be dangerous to mortals such as spirits that can snatch souls without remorse. Victoria is a Wildblood, meaning she has the magic to communicate with the creatures and, in her professional standing, can ensure the safety of tourists.

When a well-known Black gold miner named Laertes Thorn becomes a client with his rather large party, Victoria is tasked with her fellow Wildbloods to bring these foreigners to a mountain allegedly full of gold. The gold is a legend since survivors have never exited the jungle to tell the story of reaching the treasures.

On the trip like back at home, Victoria tries to remain a motherly figure to Bunny, a young Wildblood who cannot control his magic, and a girlfriend to Samson, a Wildblood who was kidnapped by the company after her. But new emotions arise as she finds herself falling for Thorn and battling her former love Dean, the main Wildblood in charge who seems like he’ll do anything to keep their abusive boss happy like saying yes to such a dangerous trip.

The fight for survival underlies the story that places Victoria in a spot where she’s trying to understand love from different angles and trust in her inherent magic.

Author Lauren Blackwood talks to she lit about how she came up with the story and the art of making sure the characters, the plot, and the tension remain engaging until the very end. Check out the conversation below:

she lit: The story’s main character, Victoria, is a Wildblood who possesses the magic to communicate with the precarious jungle. Her touring company kidnapped her at a young age to take advantage of her magic. How did you come up with this story and figure out how to convey the difficult subject of abuse?

Lauren Blackwood: I wanted to write a book about a girl finding her strength. Anytime I portray an issue or trauma I want it to be done sensitively and respectfully, but also honestly. I don’t think showing SA* on page is ever necessary—there are ways to get the message across without that type of triggering imagery. So with that in mind, I then let Victoria guide her own journey on the path that felt right for her. 

she lit: While on the dangerous tour, Victoria finds herself tangled in a love cube with her partner Samson, her ex Dean, and her new client Thorn. Can you describe your writing experience with creating the tension between these characters?

Lauren Blackwood: You’re the first one to ever describe their situation as a love cube, haha! Writing relationships is my favorite thing, and I purposely wanted to use this book to explore different kinds of love. But I think the issue is that all three boys have different intentions for Victoria, which puts them in conflict with each other and with Victoria herself, who’s really just learning to live her life on her own terms.

Photo Credit: Terri LaShae

she lit: Victoria takes it upon herself to be a mother figure to Bunny, a younger Wildblood who rages with his magic. How would you describe this source of love for Victoria as a counterbalance to the love she’s getting from Samson and Thorn?

Lauren Blackwood: Victoria’s relationship with Bunny is more of that of a mother and child—she’s extremely protective of him, which is a love he doesn’t necessarily appreciate. It’s the opposite of her relationship with Samson, who in his own loving way tries to look out for her but ends up being a bit overbearing. So you have those two opposites of the spectrum, and then you have Thorn, who sits right in the middle. They have mutual respect and love for each other, and they don’t doubt each others’ abilities but look out for each other equally.

she lit: Greed is an overwhelming theme with Thorn and his team endangering their lives to mine gold in the Gilded Orchard that has never been mined by survivors. Can you explain the historical significance of making the team members Black and their desire to gain riches before the turn of the 20th century?

Lauren Blackwood: If you’ve read my debut Within These Wicked Walls, you’ll know I love writing about wealthy Black guys who have the freedom to do as they please. I suppose the historical significance is that when Black people owned business, all the staff would be Black because they weren’t welcome in white spaces—whatever business ventures white people were up to, Black people were usually doing it too and just not getting any credit for it. But honestly, I just wanted to write about Black people, regardless of history.

she lit: The book’s cover is vibrant, featuring Victoria in the jungle. Victoria looks a lot like you. How much input did you have in the cover design and the way the character is portrayed on the cover?

Lauren Blackwood: I wanted to write a character who looks like me (who’s Jamaican like me) because growing up there were never any fantasy novels about girls who shared my heritage. So, the only thing I really requested was to feature the Jamaican flag colors—black, green, and gold. The rest of the genius design was handled by my amazing cover designer Kerri Resnick and brilliant artist Colin Verdi. They interpreted Victoria perfectly, so I really didn’t have to say much.

*SA is an acronym for sexual assault.