Hey everyone, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve really talked to you all through the blog. I promise I’ll try to do better. I might even write up a longer post about what’s been going on. Anyway. October kicked in the door – bringing the first anniversary of me moving out from my parents, and JFC where did the time go?! – and I thought it’s high time for me to gather some books set in an asylum. Which, I seriously have no idea how I failed to do for nearly 4 years. Like… Hello, the perfect theme for a bookish post is just poking my eyes out, for fuck’s sake. Geez.
So, I called out to the people of the internet to get some recommendations for books that are set in an asylum in one way or another. I also looked around on my own and picked 10 of them that seemed the most interesting to me and which covered a wide spectrum of genres, both self-published and trad published. I think everyone will find one to interest them, but if you’d like to have more, I recommend checking out this Twitter feed or the comments on this post in the Fantasy-Faction Facebook group. Or you can search for asylum on Goodreads and get hundreds or more books to pick from.
Here is the full list of books aka Table of Contents if you’d like to jump to any in particular:
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
Several friends recommended Shutter Island, and Dennis Lehane‘s book had been on my TBR since forever together with Mystic River. I’ve seen both movies which were excellent. But then again, I totally have a crush on Kevin Bacon, so loving Mystic River was pretty much a given.
U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to find an escaped murderer named Rachel Solando.
As a killer hurricane bears down on the island, the investigation deepens and the questions mount. How has a barefoot woman escaped from a locked room? Who is leaving them clues in the form of cryptic codes? And what really goes on in Ward C?
The closer Teddy gets to the truth, the more elusive it becomes. And the more he begins to believe that he may never leave Shutter Island. Because someone is trying to drive him insane …
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Dickensian novel set in London? Sign me up! Fingersmith also got a few votes, so on to the list it went. It’s not fully set in an asylum, but it gets its part, so that’s good enough for me. And, according to Goodreads it has LGBTQ content, so this should be great for those of you looking for more Queer literature.
Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.
One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.
With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways…But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.
The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell
Another Historical Fiction – did I ever mention how much of a sucker I am for the genre? – this time from the 20th century, set in Eastern Europe. Not in Hungary, but close enough. Sadly, I’ve never been to Prague myself but planning to do so for years. Maybe one day. Until then, I can visit in a fictional way thanks to The Devil Aspect!
Prague, 1935: Viktor Kosárek, a psychiatrist newly trained by Carl Jung, arrives at the infamous Hrad Orlu Asylum for the Criminally Insane. The state-of-the-art facility is located in a medieval mountaintop castle outside of Prague, though the site is infamous for concealing dark secrets going back many generations. The asylum houses the country’s six most treacherous killers–known to the staff as The Woodcutter, The Clown, The Glass Collector, The Vegetarian, The Sciomancer, and The Demon–and Viktor hopes to use a new medical technique to prove that these patients share a common archetype of evil, a phenomenon known as The Devil Aspect. As he begins to learn the stunning secrets of these patients, five men and one woman, Viktor must face the disturbing possibility that these six may share another dark truth.
Meanwhile, in Prague, fear grips the city as a phantom serial killer emerges in the dark alleys. Police investigator Lukas Smolak, desperate to locate the culprit (dubbed Leather Apron in the newspapers), realizes that the killer is imitating the most notorious serial killer from a century earlier–London’s Jack the Ripper. Smolak turns to the doctors at Hrad Orlu for their expertise with the psychotic criminal mind, though he worries that Leather Apron might have some connection to the six inmates in the asylum.
Steeped in the folklore of Eastern Europe, and set in the shadow of Nazi darkness erupting just beyond the Czech border, this stylishly written, tightly coiled, richly imagined novel is propulsively entertaining, and impossible to put down.
The Queen of Bedlam by Robert McCammon
We are staying in Historical Fiction, but this time we time travel back to 18th century New York. The Queen of Bedlam came highly recommended by Nick Borrelli, whose judgment I trust. And yes, I know it’s the second book in a series, but according to him, it can be totally read as a stand alone. And apparently, this bedlam happens to have a Queen. I wonder if there are any similarities…
His epic masterwork Speaks the Nightbird, a tour de force of witch hunt terror in a colonial town, was hailed by Sandra Brown as “deeply satisfying…told with matchless insight into the human soul.” Now, Robert McCammon brings the hero of that spellbinding novel, Matthew Corbett, to eighteenth-century New York, where a killer wields a bloody and terrifying power over a bustling city carving out its identity — and over Matthew’s own uncertain destiny.
The unsolved murder of a respected doctor has sent ripples of fear throughout a city teeming with life, noise, and commerce. Who snuffed out the good man’s life with the slash of a blade on a midnight street? The local printmaster has labeled the fiend “the Masker,” adding fuel to a volatile mystery…while young law clerk Matthew Corbett has other obsessions in mind. Earnest and hardworking, Matthew spends his precious spare time attempting to vindicate the abuses he witnessed growing up in the Sainted John Home for Boys, at the hands of its monstrous headmaster. But Matthew’s true calling lies not in avenging the past but salvaging the future — for when the Masker claims a new victim, Matthew Saulis lured into a maze of forensic clues and heart-pounding investigation that will both test his natural penchant for detection and inflame his hunger for justice.
In the strangest twist of all, the key to unmasking the Masker may await in an asylum where the Queen of Bedlam reigns — and only a man of Matthew’s reason and empathy can unlock her secrets. From the seaport to Wall Street, from society mansions to gutters glimmering with blood spilled by a deviant, Matthew’s quest will tauntingly reveal the answers he seeks — and the chilling truths he cannot escape.
The Ninth Configuration by William Peter Blatty
This one is an oldie, which recently got republished by Tor it appears. The Ninth Configuration is set in a military asylum and from the description, discusses faith among other things. Military stuff is usually isn’t in my wheelhouse, but this one got me intrigued for sure.
Hidden away in a brooding Gothic manor in the deep woods is Center Eighteen, a secret military “rest camp” currently housing twenty-seven inmates, all officers who have succumbed to a sudden outbreak of mental illness. Have the men truly lost their minds, are they only pretending to be insane to avoid combat, or is some more sinister conspiracy at work?
Desperate for answers, the Pentagon has placed a brilliant Marine psychiatrist in charge of the base and its deranged occupants. A man of deep faith and compassion, Colonel Kane hopes to uncover the root of the men’s bizarre obsessions. But as Center Eighteen descends into chaos, Kane finds the greatest challenge may be his own buried demons. . . .
A stunning meditation on God’s existence that was the basis of an acclaimed Golden Globe award-winning 1980 film (also known as Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane), William Peter Blatty’s The Ninth Configuration is a thought-provoking, blackly comic journey into the heart of madness–and the outer limits of belief.
Asylum by Carly Rheilan
This book came to my attention when I did an interview with Carly. It’s not only about a mental asylum – although it’s partly set in an old one – but a political one as well. It’s probably a lot different from anything else on this list.
The child’s hand groping out of the earth is undoubtedly real. As real as Cabdi’s own hand, when it lay on the earth after the machete fell, long ago.
But this hand is alive. And it isn’t in a war-zone. It’s in the playground of a school, just outside the grounds of the English psychiatric hospital where Cabdi is now held. And the man who is stamping on the moving hand is a pigeater.
Pigeaters are in charge of everything. As an accidental asylum seeker, Cabdi is friendless in a country he does not know. He cannot speak English. But he knows that he should not have gone into the playground. He should not have seen the hand in the earth. And whatever lies behind this, it is not his war.
He walks away.
Why should the crime have a witness, anyway?
Insanity by Cameron Jace
Let’s get some YA into the mix, shall we? Insanity is an Alice in Wonderland retelling with a twist. It’s the first book of a series with the same title.
After accidentally killing everyone in her class, Alice Wonder is now a patient in the Radcliffe Lunatic Asylum. No one doubts her insanity. Only a hookah-smoking professor believes otherwise; that he can prove her sanity by decoding Lewis Carroll’s paintings, photographs, and find Wonderland’s real whereabouts. Professor Caterpillar persuades the asylum that Alice can save lives and catch the wonderland monsters now reincarnated in modern day criminals. In order to do so, Alice leads a double life: an Oxford university student by day, a mad girl in an asylum by night. The line between sanity and insanity thins when she meets Jack Diamond, an arrogant college student who believes that nonsense is an actual science.
The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls by Emilie Autumn
I definitely like the sound of this book, and according to the person who recommended it, Emilie Autumn is a musician who has an album inspired by the book. How cool is that? And yes, I can totally be bought by music, why do you ask?
Two young women, living centuries apart, both accused of madness, communicate across time to fight a common enemy… their doctors.
“It was the dog who found me.”
Such is the stark confession launching the harrowing scene that begins The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls as Emilie Autumn, a young musician on the verge of a bright career, attempts suicide by overdosing on the antipsychotics prescribed to treat her bipolar disorder. Upon being discovered, Emilie is revived and immediately incarcerated in a maximum-security psych ward, despite her protestations that she is not crazy, and can provide valid reasons for her actions if someone would only listen.
Treated as a criminal, heavily medicated, and stripped of all freedoms, Emilie is denied communication with the outside world, and falls prey to the unwelcome attentions of Dr. Sharp, head of the hospital’s psychiatry department. As Dr. Sharp grows more predatory by the day, Emilie begins a secret diary to document her terrifying experience, and to maintain her sanity in this environment that could surely drive anyone mad. But when Emilie opens her notebook to find a desperate letter from a young woman imprisoned within an insane asylum in Victorian England, and bearing her own name and description, a portal to another world is blasted wide open.
As these letters from the past continue to appear, Emilie escapes further into this mysterious alternate reality where sisterhoods are formed, romance between female inmates blossoms, striped wallpaper writhes with ghosts, and highly intellectual rats speak the Queen’s English.
But is it real? Or is Emilie truly as mad as she is constantly told she is?
The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls blurs harsh reality and magical historical fantasy whilst issuing a scathing critique of society’s treatment of women and the mental health care industry’s treatment of its patients, showing in the process that little has changed throughout the ages.
Welcome to the Asylum. Are you committed?
Asylum by Madeleine Roux
Another YA novel, and based on Goodreads it’s a pretty popular one and it’s more in the horror vein than Insanity. It’s been sitting on my TBR for a while along with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to which Asylum was compared.
Asylum is a thrilling and creepy photo-novel perfect for fans of the New York Times bestseller Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.
For sixteen-year-old Dan Crawford, New Hampshire College Prep is more than a summer program—it’s a lifeline. An outcast at his high school, Dan is excited to finally make some friends in his last summer before college. But when he arrives at the program, Dan learns that his dorm for the summer used to be a sanatorium, more commonly known as an asylum. And not just any asylum—a last resort for the criminally insane.
As Dan and his new friends, Abby and Jordan, explore the hidden recesses of their creepy summer home, they soon discover it’s no coincidence that the three of them ended up here. Because the asylum holds the key to a terrifying past. And there are some secrets that refuse to stay buried.
Featuring found photos of unsettling history and real abandoned asylums and filled with chilling mystery and page-turning suspense, Madeleine Roux’s teen debut, Asylum, is a horror story that treads the line between genius and insanity.
Asylum by Tamera Lawrence
I recently saw some posts about this book as part of a book tour and it got me thinking about other books set in an asylum. And then this post was born. So it’s only fair that Asylum would get its own spot on this list.
Like all children living at Rose Hill Asylum, Kyle Hampton wanted freedom from the abusive staff and violent residents. When at nine he was adopted into a loving family, he left his younger brother behind and didn’t look back. Twenty-eight years later, his choices have returned to haunt him.
Now a family man, Kyle has hidden his true childhood from his wife, only to stir up the past when, as a lark, he revisits the underground tunnels and the abandoned asylum with a friend. A dark figure wants revenge and emerges ready to destroy Kyle and everyone he loves. But Kyle isn’t going down without a fight—he’s played in the shadows before.
Will his childhood, rooted in terror, be what saves him?
And that concludes our list of books set in an asylum. I plan to read a couple of them this month, time permitting, so feel free to join if you’d like, or tell me if you’ve read any of them below. I also would like to hear your recs in the comments!