Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Asylum by Madeleine Roux

I...don't...like...asylums. They scare me. They're dirty, unsettling places of torture and inhumanity and I don't like them! Yes, I'm sure our modern day mental facilities are perfectly safe, clean places where people can recuperate in a healthy and secure setting, but the old ones just freak me out! But after going through an entire October reading only two or three books that could genuinely be called scary, I decided to give myself a challenge and check this one out. Much like the Miss Peregrine books, this one relies on the use of old black and white photographs and builds a story around them. Where this one differs from the Miss Peregrine books, this one is a straight up thriller meant to scare and disturb. Does it succeed? Let's find out.

Daniel Crawford is excited to spend part of his summer at the New Hampshire College Prep program.  He gets to be with kids who actually want to learn, he gets to take classes he's excited about, and he's managed to make a couple of friends: pretty, artistic Abby and sarcastic, cool Jordan. The only downside is that he and his friends are living in an old asylum not far from the campus while the dorms are being renovated. This wouldn't bother Dan until creepy stuff starts happening. Cryptic and sometimes threatening notes keep appearing, strange messages start popping up on his phone, and he keeps getting flashes into the mind of the asylum's old warden. Abby and Jordan are being affected too and when students start getting hurt, even killed, the horrors of the asylum's past become a very real, present day nightmare.

 As someone who finds old asylums and old-fashioned mental treatments really unsettling, they actually don't go into too much detail about what went on at the asylum in its working days. In all honesty, I was kind of let down. They touch on suspected lobotomies and shock treatments but they never give us anything else. It's kind of like when someone talks and talks about how evil a villain is, but we never see them do anything evil. If you're going to go there, go there.

That being said, it does make a good horror story and mystery. The slowly building tension creeps up until you feel trapped. There are suspects everywhere so you can guess just who is behind everything going on and try to establish a potential culprit. The best part, however, is Dan's portrayal in all this. Even though he's the protagonist, there's still a great deal about Dan that is left a mystery. As we pile information together, even he starts to become untrustworthy. How much of what's happening is real and how much is in Dan's own head? Can we trust what he thinks and says? It's all handled really well and gets to the point in, at the end when the answers reveal themselves, you're still surprised, even if you could guess what was going on. It's a startling reveal to say the least.

The story is well-paced and the characterization of the asylum itself is well written. You feel it slowly take control of, not only Dan, but everyone living there. The atmosphere slowly changes people, shifting their personalities and even driving a wedge between Dan and his friends. Abby gets fixated on a patient she believes was a long lost family member. Jordan gets nightmares and is seen frantically crunching mystery numbers no one seems able to make heads-or-tails of. It gets to the point where the asylum becomes almost an infection, spreading through the students and twisting their realities until they're barely recognizable as the same kids who started the program. It also makes use of the photos that are scattered throughout the book. The imagery is unsettling and sets the tone of the book. It all comes together in a dark, twisted mystery that I was hoping for.

Final Verdict
Twisted, creepy, dark, this book is just what I was hoping it would be. It's a good mystery with just enough twists to keep you guessing, enough scares to keep you up at night, and a story that makes it worth your money at your local bookstore.

Have you read the book? What did you think? Comment below and share your thoughts.

Next Time: You know what fairy tales need more of? Zombies.

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