Within These Wicked Walls
Within These Wicked Walls is a fascinating transposition of Jane Eyre to Ethiopia with good world-building and lovely prose. But a sour male lead took this one down a notch or two for me.
Andromeda, called Andi, is a debtera – which, in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, is an itinerant figure who performs white magic and exorcisms for members of the church, as well as leading hymns and dancing as part of its services. In this universe, while the church is alluded to, it’s basically short for exorcist-for-hire. Andi has been training under her somewhat abusive father figure, Jember, as a debtera, but when he ends their mentorship as she turns nineteen, Andi is without the money she needs to become fully licensed in the field. Seeking a way out of the poverty in which she grew up, Andi hopes to find herself a patron – someone rich and well-connected who will help her gain a good reputation. She is soon hired by rich chocolate magnate Magnus Rochester to remove the Evil Eye from his cursed family home and self. Since Andromeda makes amulets, and silver amulets control the curse of the Evil Eye, she thinks the problem won’t be too hard to contain.
Andi thought wrong, as the curse is surprisingly hard to break. She is romantically intrigued by Rochester, but she is immediately faced with horrifying manifestations which confront her at every turn in his ancestral mansion, Thornfield. Rochester’s curse is much more complicated than she was led to believe – he is forced to wear bells upon his body for a reason. Can Andi dispel the Evil Eye for good as servants disappear all around her? Or is she in over her head?
Uneven and yet filled with lush world-building, Within These Wicked Walls mostly works as an action-adventure tale and definitely sets a wonderful, pulse-pounding mood of gory suspense. The magical realism works here, mixing nineteenth century references with modern ones.
The romance is a bit weaker, and feels a tad instalust-y. Magnus is even more arrogant than original recipe Rochester, and sometimes that makes him an unappealing hero, cold and cruelly indifferent to Andi’s suffering. When they’re charming together they’re charming, but sometimes they can be annoying. Andi’s complicated relationship with Jember is fraught and complex (he beats her on-page, and there is also mention of the fact that Andi’s birth parents sold her to a brothel as a child). It has made Andi a traumatized person who is self-defensive in an honest and understandable way.
I liked Andi most of all though. She’s memorable enough to make this a B-level read and worth a recommendation. Within These Wicked Walls works better as a horror yarn than a romance, but the younger set might be willing to overlook that weakness.
Note: This book contains some major gore as well as body horror.