Review: Wildblood - Lauren Blackwood
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Published: Little Brown Book Group, February 2023
My Rating: 3/5 stars
Wildblood felt like a book with an identity crisis. On the one hand: we have fantasy-romance against the backdrop of a fun jungle adventure. On the other hand, we have the hint at much deeper themes of eco-tourism, colonialism and abuse of power. Whether you’ll enjoy this novel will largely depend on what you hope to get from it…
Our story takes place in the mystical and dangerous deep-jungles of Jamaica, where rich westerners pay good money to get a taste of the “exotic”, within the safety of a guided tour. The Exotic Lands Touring Company has built an empire on this brand of eco-tourism, meanwhile exploiting the land as well as its people for profit. Victoria is one of their unwilling but ambitious employee’s, as well as a Wildblood; one with the power to manipulate her environment and protect travellers from the dangers of the jungle. When Victoria is passed over for promotion in favour of her ex-boyfriend, she is determined to prove herself. What better way to do so, than to successfully complete the high-profile job of shepherding a famous goldminer safely across the jungle in his next search for treasure. But the jungle is treacherous: between mythical monsters, backstabbing exes, and unexpected romance, Victoria has to decide - is promotion at a corrupt company really what she wants?
What I liked:
Lauren Blackwood does settings and atmosphere extremely well. She already proved so with the haunted manor-setting in her debut Within These Wicked Walls, but she outdoes herself with the sentient haunted jungle in this book. From the foggy, damp atmosphere to the lush vegetation, to the lurking creatures that inhabit it; I felt myself completely transported to the world she envisioned.
I also liked the authors ambition of incorporating some important but complex themes of eco-tourism, colonialism, slavery and abuse of power. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like that came to complete fruition.
What I didn’t like:
This is where the identity-crisis comes in... Although Wildblood tries to address these themes, it simultaneously reads like your typical young-adult fantasy-romance, more concerned with the soap-opera-level personal drama of its characters, than the larger issues going on around them. The typical tropes of the YA-genre are all there: teenage drama concerning exes and promotions, cringe-worthy insta-love/love-triangles, the trope of our protagonist being the inexplicably “most powerful magic-user of her sort”. The very shallow and basic tropes made for a mismatch to the deeper themes for me; the book simply lacked the page time and depth to do these them justice. Rather, I’d have seen the book commit to its classic-YA roots fully. That way I might have enjoyed it for what it was, and not have been disappointed by missed potential.
Speaking of “enjoying things for what they are”; I was irrationally bothered by the fact that the author kept referring to the magic as “science”, even though there’s absolutely nothing scientific about it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the trope of wild/blood magic, but at least call it what it is, instead of selling it as something it’s not?!
I recommend this to readers looking for a fun YA-fantasy-romance with a unique tropical setting; you’re in for a good time with this one! If you’re coming at this specifically for the hinted social commentary or looking for anything genre-transcending; you might come away disappointed.
Many thanks to Little Brown Book Group UK for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Find this book here on Goodreads.