A novelette of lycanthropy and insanity.
In Victorian England, there is a special institution where two men intend to help lycanthropes suppress their nocturnal transformations, while searching for a more permanent cure. One evening, they discover a rare type of werewolf - one trapped eternally in a half-human, half-wolf form - that they believe could be beneficial to their research.
'Martha', however, believing her shape is due to her being a Messiah to her brethren, wishes to see the other werewolves embrace their curse. Can she be treated and cured? Or will her 'Lord' have his way?
First and foremost, this is a novella. At 104 pages (including the title and acknowledgement pages), there isn't a lot of room to go off and explore the entire world, nor to grasp much of the complexity in the main characters. And yet Barsby managed to pack in a lot into a small package.
The story is told in the perspective of journal entries of a nameless doctor. Actually, it's unclear if he is a doctor since his work involves a strange mix of psychology and studying lycanthropy. At the very least, he and his associate, Harlston, run an asylum for werewolves. It is our narrator's hope to cure this affliction and allow his wards to return to their normal human lives.
In this world werewolves are men who, after receiving the bite, turn into wolves every night. While in that form they have no control over their bodies, though some do retain their minds through the experience. The transformations are painful and wild, and some of the patients have killed as the wolf. It is primarily for this reason that they, or their loved ones, have sought help here.
One night, however, the two doctors (for lack of a better term) discover a young female who is permanently fixed between the two forms - and anthropomorphized wolf who still has the power of thought and speech. Knowing that she might be key to helping the other patients, they bring her back to the asylum for further study. But our narrator quickly discovers that her unique form is only half as interesting as her mind.
The narrator, for being nameless, was surprisingly complex. He's seen firsthand the harm that these creatures can do, but instead of condemning them to death he seeks to help the man return to control. He's also looking somewhat into the origin of the creatures - whether it is divine interaction or a condition of the psyche.
This struggle of thought is only complicated by the newfound female's message, which has a new God choosing her to help usher in a new world where werewolves rule. Her story was doubly intriguing for me, since I took a literature class on madness in college. Is she mad, or are those around her simply refusing to look at a new perspective?
I thought, even for a novella, the world-building was exquisite. The details that were missing only made me hungry for more. And the writing style only helped to sell it. Harkening back to the style of Stoker's Dracula, the matter-of-fact tone of the initial journals only makes the later emotional entries that much more evocative. Again, some details such as country, climate, etc. etc., would have been nice, but keeping it open made it so it could have been almost anywhere.
I did have a couple problems with the book. Putting aside the few typos, the journal entries made it difficult for me to discern what tense was proper, and I noticed it change randomly a couple times, jolting me out of the book. I also was disappointed with the ending — we go through the entire book with this nameless narrator, learning his story, only to jump to a completely different person's story for the end of the book? Sure, it answered some nagging questions throughout the book, but I wanted the narrator's reaction! At least a line or two. But instead all we get is "The End?".
Still, if I heard there was going to be a sequel or an expansion of this novella, I'd jump on it. Barsby's writing proved to be entertaining, and his story was both thought-provoking and emotional. Given a little more attention to characters and the length to include more details, I'd be happy to dive back into this world.
Overall, The Werewolf Asylum was an interesting mix of psychology and theology. Though it contains no language or sex at all, due to some violence and the tone of the novella it's probably more geared toward an adult audience, but I could see some young adults reading it as well. And while I found the questioning of theology to be thought-provoking, I can see some readers being turned off instantly. Still, I think fans of the werewolf genre should definitely sink their teeth into a copy, even if it is just an electronic one (be careful of shock!).
Approximate Reading Time: 2 hours
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this e-book from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.