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Dark Asylum by E. S. Thomson
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Dark Asylum

by E. S. Thomson

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E. S. Thomson's "Dark Asylum" takes place in England in the mid-1850s, and is as gruesome, complex, and atmospheric as the author's debut novel, "Beloved Poison." The principal narrator is Jem Flockhart, a woman who passes as a man and owns an apothecary shop. An expert at her trade, she skillfully dispenses herbs, salves, potions, powders, and pills to her customers. Jem shares her rooms above the shop with her friend, architect Will Quartermain, and her apprentice, Gabriel Locke. The author also gives voice to a second narrator, a resourceful and intelligent girl who grew up in Prior's Rents, a filthy and vice-ridden slum. Cruel and lustful men exploited this young woman, who was traumatized and embittered by the abuse she suffered.

Much of the action takes place in the fetid walls of Angel Meadow Asylum (what a misnomer!). Its unfortunate inmates are left to wallow in their own filth and forced to undergo primitive, ineffective, and harmful treatments at the hands of practitioners who experiment on their defenseless patients. Various individuals meet untimely deaths, leaving the insightful and tenacious Jem to find the perpetrator(s). "Dark Asylum" is a tale of opposites; it is amusing and entertaining, but also grim, edgy, and sinister.

Set during the Victorian era, "Dark Asylum" is, in some ways, ahead of its time. Thomson explores such themes as a woman's right to have an education, own her own business, and make her own decisions; the responsibility of physicians to behave humanely and refrain from harming those in their care; and the ways in which poverty debases men, women, and children. Thomson's writing is Dickensian in tone, period detail, and character development. One example of a man Dickens might have created is Dr. Mothersole, an obese and arrogant blowhard who bullies his daughter and prances around singing and playing pan pipes for the mentally ill--a relatively benign form of torture. As is her habit, Jem endangers her life to uncover long-buried secrets that have led to acts of violent retribution. In spite of her obvious flawsÛÓshe is impulsive and imprudent‰ÛÓJem is a courageous and compassionate defender of the underdog. One can plausibly argue that the book's conclusion is too chaotic and relies on far-fetched coincidences. Still, fans of well-researched and evocative Victorian thrillers will enjoy this involving and generally well-crafted work of fiction. ( )
  booklover915 | Oct 9, 2018 |
You almost can't blame some of the characters for the terrible things they do but overall this felt like a chronicle of atrocities rather than a tighter story. The red herrings were interesting too and the reasons for the murders were logical in their own way but I just finished the book with no real impulse to continue reading this series. I was interested in the book and the characters but when it was over I was content that this story had done all it needed to. ( )
  wyvernfriend | May 8, 2018 |
I would like to thank Little Brown Books and Constable for providing me with an advanced reading copy of this book.

For a good few years I have avoided historical fiction, it's a genre that I used to read a lot of but found myself losing interest in. There was plenty of it out there but I just wasn't feeling it - they were all starting to run into each other, none stood out and I felt that they all read much the same. That is, until I came across E.S. Thomson's debut novel Beloved Poison and was blown away by how fantastic the book was. So fantastic, in fact, that it was my top read of 2016 and I have been recommending it to everyone ever since.

I was like a child on Christmas morning when Dark Asylum landed on my doorstep, but I have to admit I was a little apprehensive at first because I was scared it wouldn't live up to the first book. I needn't have worried, I loved it every bit as much as Beloved Poison.

It was such a joy to be with Jem and Will again and to be back on the streets of Victorian London. The sights, the sounds, the streets, the smells, the mood, the atmosphere, all so vivid that I was transported easily to another time and place. Like with Beloved Poison, the world around me ceased to exist while this book was in my hands.

The author's knowledge of medicine and of the time period is clear to see in the historical detail within the story. It's also clear that she enjoys what she does and has put a lot of love and dedication into the book.

And can I just point out that cover! This is one of the rare occasion where you can safely judge a book by its gorgeous cover and know that the story inside is every bit as amazing.

E.S. Thomson has made me fall in love with historical fiction all over again.

Highly recommended. One of my favourite reads of 2017 so far! ( )
  Scarlet-Aingeal | May 11, 2017 |
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He lay on his back in the centre of the floor, a dark crescent of blood about his head.
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When the principal physician for Angel Meadow Asylum is found brutally murdered, Jem Flockhart and Will Quatermain pursue the story through the darkest corners of London. From the depths of a notorious rookery, to brothels, gallows, graveyards and the convict fleet, Jem and Will find themselves caught up in a web of dark secrets and hidden identities.… (more)

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