She is a New York Times Bestseller, and a fave pick for Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club in the Fall of 2021. Now, author Lauren Blackwood is back with a dark fantasy inspired by Jamaican folklore from her heritage, in which a magical woman must face the horrors of a monster-infested jungle, insidious colonialism, and what lies within her own heart in ‘Wildblood’ (Macmillan) out February 7, 2023.
Eighteen-year-old Victoria is a Wildblood. Kidnapped at age six and manipulated by the Exotic Lands Touring Company, she works as a tour guide with a team of fellow Wildbloods who use their magic to protect travelers in a Jamaican jungle teeming with ghostly monsters. When the boss denies Victoria an earned promotion, she’s determined to prove herself on their next expedition: leading a renowned goldminer named Thorn to an untouched gold supply deep in the jungle.
Thorn is everything Victoria isn’t: confident, impossibly kind, and devastatingly handsome. And when he entrusts the mission to her, kindness turns to mutual respect, affection, and love. But the jungle is treacherous, and between hypnotic river spirits, soul-devouring women who shed their skin like snakes, and her ex out for revenge, Victoria has to decide: is promotion at a corrupt company really what she wants? ‘Wildblood’ tells the story of a girl who must find the strength to defeat the demons of the jungle as well as her own to find where she truly belongs.
On the eve of her YA release, Lauren spoke to us about where she gets inspiration from for her stories, drawing on her heritage, and what a Wildblood actually is!
Where did you love of fantasy and romance begin? Was there a certain book that ignited the spark for you?
The book that had the greatest impact on my love of fantasy and romance was Hawksong by Amelia Atwater-Rhode. The enemies to lovers, the marriage of convenience, the angst, the sexual tension. Still one of my favorites to this day.
Your YA Debut became a NYT bestseller and was chosen for a much-coveted spot in Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club in 2021. What was it like seeing ‘Within These Wicked Walls’ received so well?
So exciting, but so overwhelming at the same time! I really believed in my debut, and I have been hoping for all those things, but it’s such a crazy wonderful feeling when it actually happens. It was a lot, very quickly, and my introverted heart wasn’t ready for it, haha!
Your new book ‘Wildblood’ is set in the jungles of Jamaica. How did the idea for this story come about, and what made you want to set it in your home country?
I’ve always wanted to write a book based around my Jamaican heritage, it was just about finding the right story. And after I wrote Within these Wicked Walls, which was based on Ethiopian folklore, I decided to stick with the same recipe, this time with Jamaica.
What is a Wildblood? Can you share some of the character traits you came up with?
A Wildblood is an individual with the ability to use the energy in blood on a cellular level (ATP) in order to manipulate it. If they use it too many times in a row, it causes a horrible side effect which could eventually kill them. Unfortunately, this ability is so feared and mistrusted that society treats them as second-class citizens.
There are topics like colonialism interwoven into this story. Can you tell us more about why you chose to include this?
Because it’s supposed to be a historical Jamaica rather than just an island influenced by it, and because colonialism and colorism is such a huge part of Jamaican history, I felt I had to include it. Jamaica was under British rule, but what’s not talked about enough is that after slavery was already abolished Black people and people of color were coerced and manipulated into doing labor for little to no pay—so, in that way, the Wildbloods’ plight of working for the touring company isn’t all that fictional.
Victoria has to battle demons both literally and figuratively to find where she belongs. Why is belonging such an important theme to you?
Because finding somewhere to belong isn’t just physical or emotional safety, it’s also where you’re understood as a person—that sort of thing seems to treated more as a luxury than necessity, and it should be the opposite. I think everyone knows what it’s like to not belong, and all that comes with it, and so it’s something all readers will connect to.
Where do you find inspiration from as a writer?
Art, music, anime, classic literature. But also, inspiration is all around—any small thing can spark an idea.
As a woman of color, can you tell us more about the importance of seeing more characters, stories and books with diverse characters and cultures?
Growing up, I never got to see girls who looked like me who also got to live and thrive and love and kick butt. Not everyone can relate to western/European culture, and it’s beautiful to be able to see yourself in a hero who thinks like you and experiences things in the way you do.
What do you hope readers will love most about Victoria?
Both her fierce devotion to those she loves and her justified rage—because she deserves to feel both.