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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dark Shadows in Victorian Oxford
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...
Published on 4 Feb 2012 by Gregory S. Buzwell

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could be a case of more style than content-disappointing
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...
Published on 24 Mar 2012 by JK


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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 "bagpuss007" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
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. The charcters themselves however are engaging - Edward Fraser the old before his time theology student with a distrust of Diana Pelham that may, or may not, be justified is a wonderful creation and some of the minor characters such as Sukey the abused and betrayed woman who comes good in the end are highly likeable and engaging. The descriptions of the run-down area of Jericho are also suitably atmospheric - at times as heros, villains and imperilled ladies chase each other back and forth through the shadowy, low-life strewn streets the book almost reads like a Sherlock Holmes story transferred from London to Oxford - and there is enough incidental detail to give a real feeling of the late Victorian era.

In a way there is hardly a dearth of fiction set during the Victorian era but even so this is a welcome addition to the well-stocked shelves. What it may lack in terms of depth (it doesn't have quite the same level of emotional intensity as, say, 'The Crimson Petal and the White' or Sarah Waters's 'Affinity') it more than makes up for in well-drawn characters and exciting set-pieces. It's a promising debut and Katy Darby is definitely an author to watch out for in the future. Highly enjoyable.

One final point - almost as an aside. The book itself as a physical object is rather lovely. The cover illustration is delightful and the covers themselves have an embossed feel to them that gives the illusion that the covers are made of cloth. In an age where content is all and where text can be downloaded to e-readers in seconds it's rather encouraging to see such a beautifully produced bookjacket, especially for a first-time novelist.
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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
This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
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 "Writer & Photographer" (Exeter) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
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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 "Angela" (Essex) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
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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
3.0 out of 5 stars Could be a case of more style than content-disappointing, 24 Mar 2012
By 
JK "Julie K." (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
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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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accomplished debut..., 4 Mar 2012
By 
Welsh Annie (Wetherby) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
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Uncritical maybe, but there really was nothing I didn't like about this one - read it in a couple of sittings and was totally absorbed by Kate Darby's brilliant portrayal of the seamier side of Victorian life. I thought the structure worked really well - I liked the separate stories revealing part of the narrative through writings left behind. I thought Edward Fraser was a wonderful character, and a distinctive voice, with his absolute sense of moral rectitude justifying every action. There's enough mystery and melodrama to keep you turning the pages, boo-hiss villains, hopeless love and tarts with a heart to satisfy anyone - and you can smell the streets and feel the damp, the writing's of a very high quality. Fans of Sarah Waters will love this one, an accomplished debut.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Splendidly atmospheric story, 22 Feb 2012
This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
I read this gripping novel almost in one sitting; I curled upon a wet winter Sunday and disappeared into Ms Darby's world. And it's not a comfortable world, full of vice, disease, betrayal and not-so-righteous anger, shot through with veiled horror.

I really enjoyed the way the story unfolded piece by piece, one contradictory narrative following another so that the reader is drawn in to make judgements, piecing together the full picture from clues and hints.

It's a wonderfully dark story, richly evocative of the seedy Victorian underworld. I particularly admired the way Ms Darby dissects her characters' outmoded attitudes and mores without ever judging them by 21st century standards. She leaves the reader to do that, and the impact of the story is much stronger because of it.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book had me enthralled within the first few pages, 13 Feb 2012
This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
Set in the late 1800's , the storyline is set around three main characters who have different backgrounds, breeding and beliefs. The book had me enthralled within the first few pages due to the air of mystery that was created.

The characters are vividly described and the attention to detail of the settings, language used and etiquette is superb. The story is based on two scholars, one for the priesthood and one training to become a doctor in pathology. During his training to become a doctor he is given the chance to study on live cases who are working girls and are suffering from venereal diseases. This appeals to him very strongly but when he tries to explain this to his friend, who is studying for the priesthood, conflict of interests arise. The priest-to-be is appalled and horrified that the doctor could cure the girls so they could go back to plying their immoral trade.

On his research at the Asylum the doctor falls in love with the woman who runs the shelter. When his trainer cannot attend a ball he gives the doctor the two tickets and he takes his priest friend. On arriving at the ball he sees his lover in the arms of another man and the priest recognises her from his past life.

The author then relates each of the characters stories, the trainee priest, the trainee doctor and the madam. As each of the story unfolds, you find yourself drawn further into the book, sensing how each character is feeling and understanding the motives for their beliefs, some of which are still poignant today as we judge people we do not know without really getting to know them. The difference between the classes are a major issue in this book, how the rich live and dominate, the students living in squalor and struggling to survive and finally the working class who have to make ends meet in anyway.

When you read this book you will find yourself challenging your thoughts and beliefs. As each story gets further down the line, the mysterious air and lives of each of the characters still remains and it is not until right at the end of the story you get the full picture.

The period of the storyline is one of my favourites in history and is excellently represented and anyone who enjoys historic novels must read this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wanted more, 24 Jan 2013
By 
Edain "Edain" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
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Seemingly hot on the tails of Crimson Petal and the White, I was expecting more from The Whore's Asylum. The first disappointment is that very little of it involves whores or the asylum itself where they are treated, which I thought was a fascinating idea looking at the care of these women in its time, as well as the setting for the story. Alas, it's about two men - but no matter because the opening accounts of the heroes are well-written and they seem interesting. However there it descends into a lot of telling and no showing. We are told repeatedly that they 'are friends' yet all they ever do is argue and have one fight after another. The events putter along reported in quite a cold, stilted fashion. The heroine I found very bland; I wanted to enjoy the elements of her being strong and groundbreaking, but so little was written of the asylum I never got that feeling, and instead she was relegated to romantic interest and captured damsel being fought over.

It has some really good moments, but there's better out there.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immersive, compelling and authentic..., 6 Dec 2012
This review is from: The Whores' Asylum (Paperback)
There's so much to praise in this fantastic novel: the skilful construction (stories-within-stories are nested like Russian dolls), the beautifully developed characters (each an archetype skilfully brought to life), the style (which is well-crafted without being baroque (and occasionally Darby throws off the wraps and dazzles you with a virtuoso turn of phrase)).

But most of all I enjoyed the uncompromising authenticity of the novel (and, indeed, of the book: the covers are beautifully, lushly designed, and there are illustrations (by Max Schindler) that might have come from a Holmes-era copy of The Strand). Darby uses a 'fake editor' mechanism (the literary equivalent of 'found footage') to justify the immersive Victorianism of the novel; this works perfectly, of course, but it also sets a standard of veracity at which many lesser writers would have balked. But Darby never stumbles (or at least, never SEEMS, to this non-historian, to stumble: this is what authenticity is all about (Darby acknowledges in an Author's Note that the novel is fiction, not history, which reminded me of Martin Amis's disclaimer in Dead Babies: "I don't know much about science, but I know what I like")).

This doesn't feel like a historical novel; it feels, in the very best sense, like a Victorian novel. I mean it as the highest praise - and as a reflection on modern publishing - when I say that Darby's achievement with The Whore's Asylum is twofold: one, writing such an exceptional novel, and, two, getting such an exceptional novel published. Exceptionally exceptional.
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The Whores' Asylum
The Whores' Asylum by Katy Darby
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