Rating: 4 stars
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Gabriel was once a twin. Now he’s alone and ready to move on in life—and what better place to do that than at Leviticus, the BDSM club that Gabriel is currently standing outside. All he needs is someone to get him in, hence his talking to the burly guy currently taking a smoke break. Mike might question how old Gabriel is, but he still is the best way in to the club. All Gabby needs is a taste; he’s sure this lifestyle holds the answers to sweet oblivion and the chance to forget that he has just aged out of the foster system and is currently jobless, homeless, and high as a kite. He needs to forget—forget his twin Justin and his painful death, forget his uncaring, alcoholic mother who abandoned him, and everything else. Just one night of sweet amnesia, time away from the creepy ghost who is clinging to him like a bad rash, and a little bit of pain is all Gabby wants.
Devon is looking for a boy to spend the night with at his favorite club. When he spies the young pup at the bar, he is instantly attracted. Now all he needs to do is make sure the guy is legal and see if he wants to play. As soon as their scene begins, Devon knows there is something about this young man that is captivating, until their scene goes south and the guy starts to babble about Devon’s deceased brother being in the room with them and wanting to communicate with him. Is this guy crazy or just some kind of con artist looking to make a buck off the wrong patsy? But still, there is something about him…something that Devon can’t seem to shake.
Before I begin my review, I would like to remind future readers that the warning labels on this novel should be heeded if things like suicide, sexual abuse, and drug addiction are triggering. All are elements you will find in this novel and, while I feel they are handled as best as they can be, the scenes depicting some of these situations are graphic. I will say that they are also necessary to the plot and moving the story forward, as well as giving real insight into what has formed Gabriel’s character.
With incredible detail and an intriguing main character, Julian Burnes delivers a twisted and elaborate story in the novel, Asylum. While the paranormal aspect is more new age and psychic in nature, this story still thrusts the reader into a world where ghosts are real, able to communicate with Gabriel, and need some form of closure that he can facilitate in order to move on. Besides being able to see and communicate with ghosts, Gabby is also a very lost soul himself. Reeling from years in a system that saw him in four different foster homes and almost as many group homes, Gabby is now eighteen and on his own. His mother has always been unable or unwilling to take care of him and his twin, Justin, whose death leaves Gabby completely alone with no real friend to call his own.
Devon becomes Gabby’s anchor, both in their BDSM relationship and as someone who Gabby will come to lean on with increasing need as the story unfolds. Despite the age gap (nearly eleven years), Gabby is mature beyond his age and a walking encyclopedia of trivia that he often relies on when he is nervous or unable to cope with the mental freefall he occasionally experiences when he sees yet another ghost. The two men fit, and their relationship, both sexual and emotional, is realistic and marvelous to watch unfold.
I think my main criticism of this story is the occasional glut of information that I feel sometimes has little impact on moving the plot along or developing the story. I felt that the preponderance of information about new age occult and mysticism, along with Gabby’s tendency to spout out lengthy passages about seemingly unrelated topics, began to pull me from the action and slow the pacing of the story overall. I realize we need some information to effectively educate the reader about this unique ability Gabby has, but it just seemed to be never ending and really more involved than the story needed or warranted. However, there is no denying that the bones of this novel were really quite good and the book is a compelling and fascinating journey, despite it being difficult to read at times in terms of what Gabby had to endure growing up.
Asylum is a story that could have been tragic and unredeeming in the wrong hands. Luckily, author Julian Burnes is quite adept at creating a way in which his main character not only finds relief from his painful past, but also a bright and hopeful future with the man he loves.