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The Whores' Asylum [Paperback]

Katy Darby
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Feb 2012

'When you read these words, and all those that follow, I am afraid it must be because I am no longer here to speak them to you. Love is a disease; no doubt of it, and one which has proved mortal to many men down the ages . . .'

Oxford, 1887: Even as Victoria celebrates the fiftieth year of her reign, a stone's throw from the calm cloisters and college spires lies Jericho, a maze of seedy streets and ill-lit taverns, haunted by drunkards, thieves and the lowest sort of brazen female as ever lifted her petticoats.

When Stephen Chapman, a brilliant young medical student, is persuaded to volunteer at a shelter devoted to reforming the fallen women of Oxford, his closest friend Edward feels a strange sense of dread. But even Edward - who already knows the devastating effect of falling in love with the wrong woman - cannot foresee the macabre and violent events that will unfold around them, or stop Diana, the woman who seems destined to drive them apart.

Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Fig Tree (2 Feb 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905490801
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905490806
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (63 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 372,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


A compelling tale of death, despair and obsession . . . Wildly and knowingly melodramatic but done with such energy and ingenuity that it's also tremendous fun (Sunday Times)

Richly atmospheric and rattling away in fine style, it conjures 19th century high society and its sordid underbelly with verve and flair . . . Darby knows how to write a cracking novel . . . Darkly enjoyable (Metro)

This book really is a thing of beauty - and that's before you even open the cover . . . The illusion is maintained inside, because the debut novelist Katy Darby has wrought a truly gothic little gem that could almost have fallen through a wormhole, 125 years ago... Darby manages to retain the flavour of the authors she so obviously admires - Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle - but at the same time establishes her own voice and creates a contemporary narrative . . . a rare achievement (Independent on Sunday)

A consistently engaging and suspenseful Gothic melodrama (Herald)

Thrilling gothic romance (Daily Express)

About the Author

Katy Darby studied English Literature at Somerville College, Oxford, and Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, where she received the David Higham Award. Her fiction has been read on BBC Radio, and she has published stories in magazines including Slice, Mslexia and The London Magazine, as well as winning prizes in several international fiction competitions. She teaches writing at City University, edits the short story magazine Litro ( and co-runs the monthly live fiction event Liars' League ( She lives in London.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark Shadows in Victorian Oxford 4 Feb 2012
By Gregory S. Buzwell TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Edward Fraser is, in spite of his youth, something of a dry old stick so when his closest friend at Oxford University, Stephen Chapman, lets his medical studies take second place to his volunteer work at a shelter for fallen women Edward is understandably concerned. Even worse, the main attraction in this line of work for Stephen appears to be the lady who runs the shelter - Diana Pelham - someone Edward suspects, with very strong reason, of having a rather shady past herself. The thing is, are Edward's fears for his friend justified or does he simply want to keep Stephen to himself and away from the lures of attractive females? Where exactly do his interests and motives lie? Edward isn't quite the straight-forward narrator he seems and while Diana Pelham clearly has a secret to hide is she wicked or merely misunderstood?

The Whores' Asylum is the first novel by Katy Darby and all in all it has quite a lot going for it. The action sequences, and the moments which have a touch of the macabre and the surreal in particular are all well handled. The book features an enraged bear dressed in a sort of harlequin outfit and kept prisoner in a cellar; it has scenes of shabby well-to-do men wearing masks and making free with ladies of the night in plush, velvet-draped rooms and it has, best of all to my mind, a description of a duel taking place one foggy morning which packs a real emotional punch; but where, for me, the book suffers slightly is with the pacing. I suspect the novel could lose twenty pages or so and would, if some of the descriptions of what the characters were thinking and feeling emotionally were slightly pared back, rattle along all the better for it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book I've read so far this year 5 Mar 2012
By Achtel
I was utterly fascinated by this book, could barely put it down and was looking for excuses where possible to find more time to read.

A book written in five parts, each part giving additional angles to the underlying story, but from a different protagonist. In every part of the book you feel sympathetic to the current protagonist, you share their opinion and heartache, trouble, worries, fear. It's an amazing example of how the same story can appear completely different depending on who tell it. But each part doesn't just repeat the same story over and over again but gives more depth to the reader's understanding of motives, history etc.

Truly amazing book that will stay on my bookshelf and that I will no doubt read again!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fully involving - a great read. 20 Mar 2012
By N. Gratton TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a compelling story set mostly in the wrong side of Victorian Oxford. One of our main viewpoints through which the story is told is a rather prudish academic priest, and his voice is convincing enough that I found myself utterly involved in the story and somewhat genuinely annoyed with some of the characters - it's not often a book draws me in so well. It's not necessarily a light read ... many sections are rather exacting in their detail ... but I never felt like the story dragged. If you've enjoyed stories like Sarah Walter's Fingersmith, Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, or Gormenghast, then I highly recommend this. An easy five stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Slow starter but improves 24 Mar 2012
By Angela Lovelace VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Set in the late Victorian period, The Whore's Asylum is a story told from more than one view point, its three main protagonists Edward Fraser, a rather moralistic young man who is almost pious to a great fault, his friend and companion Stephen Chapman, a whore's doctor and a woman, Diana Cornell that runs a place for fallen women.

The book is listed as being a tragedy in five parts and it is set out in five books, telling the story of the main characters as well as other people involved.

The story is told mostly from Edward Fraser's POV and starts with him writing an account of events from the past to his son. Fraser is in poor health and wishes to make his son aware of things from his past.

The story is written in a very unsentimental style, which is not a bad thing and I think it could appeal to men as well as women because of that. You feel annoyance at times at the principle character Edward Fraser for his unrelenting sense of right and wrong and the inability to see beyond that and judge people accordingly. it is only through a series of events that his manner is softened, although his affection for his friend Stephen Chapman is his saving grace.

The harsh realities of the seedy area of Oxford, nicknamed "Jericho" are painted in the book, although as more of a backdrop of where most of the story takes place than to add to it. By the time you have finished, you have a very different view of the character from when you set out on their journey. It is a tale of hardship, love and reality of the times.

To be honest, it took me at least a 100 pages in before the story really grabbed me, although it was well written, it had rather a slow pace to it. I liked it, but found it a bit of a plod in places and it was not until the last 100 pages or so that I found it hard to put down so I could get to the conclusion of the tale.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Very light and frothy Victorian style melodrama with a beatifully designed book jacket which has been made to resemble a cloth cover. There are a few Victorian style illustrations inside the book which are part of the concept but I'm afraid that's about all I have to say because I just didn't enjoy reading "The Whore's Asylum". The problem seems to be that publishing companies are putting so much spin on their publications you end up with a book that's nothing like the synopsis and that seems to be the case here. I was expecting a dark, gritty Victorian, Dickensian, tale of prostitution and poverty but that's not what I got. OK; the book's beautifully written, but I found both the plot and the characters shallow and never particularly real or believable. The story unwinds itself slowly through the testament, statements, of various people who were all witness to particular events but there was never anything that hooked me or kept me interested and I found myself in that horrible situation of scanning rather than reading. Perhaps it's a case of more style than content because it seems that much more work has been put into the presentation than went into the plot.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Liked it, three stories to tell one tale
Published 11 days ago by Greg Law
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't stop
A skilfully written and extremely enjoyable novel filled with colourful characters and evocative Gothic settings. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Chloecatcheryl2011
4.0 out of 5 stars good, but slightly affected
Really enjoyed the character development, the settings, and the storyline. I thought the illustrations made it seem a bit tacky though. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Jimmy
5.0 out of 5 stars THE UNPIERCED HEART
I absolutely loved this book, it held my attention from start to finish. It is intelligently written with a great plot about a forbidden subject. Read more
Published 8 months ago by TRENDYWENDY
3.0 out of 5 stars Whore's Asylum
I found the book dragged and dragged on. Never quitting reading a book, I struggled to finish, often jumping from page to page to finally get to the end. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Ms Claire Beattie
5.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected treat.
The Whores Asylum is an interesting and intriguingly title - which I hope hooks people to read. I will not spoil the tale for future readers but will give a synopsis and give my... Read more
Published 15 months ago by L. mckay
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing like the 'blurb'!
From the description I expected a raunchy and gritty tale of the depths of victorian life. I enjoy Sarah Waters, Emma Donaghue, Michael Faber and was expecting a similar plot and... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Dawn B
2.0 out of 5 stars An ok read only.
A shame, as the title tempted me in expecting so much more than was delivered. I always feel rather rude criticising a book - how many have I had published? That would be none. Read more
Published 15 months ago by sulkycat
4.0 out of 5 stars Unpierced Asylum
First, the change of the title between the hardback and the paperback (Unpierced Heart PB is the Whores Asylum HB) is annoying and unhelpful when buying a book. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Remnant
5.0 out of 5 stars and rich and heart breaking story
Highly recommend this rich, engaging, gothic story. I finished as quickly as possible so I could post it to a friend "desperate for a good yarn". Read more
Published 17 months ago by Fanny Peculiar
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