Rating: 4 stars
Buy Link:
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Length: Novel


Barli wakes with her mind clear, the buzz beneath her skin quiet, and the wound on her arm tended to. She is tied to a bed, with a glass of water just out of reach. A priest enters and asks Barli if she wishes to be taken care of … or to die. Both options are available to her. After all, the priest knows Barli cannot be held truly responsible for her crime. She is, after all, possessed of a demon.

Barli chooses life.

The Asylum is filled with children and the elderly, and far too few of them. Barli’s only companions are a club-footed boy, a young girl, and Parsley the cook. All three, like Barli, are sins. People born with a demon inside them, people who cannot be trusted, people who know only sin and depravity, murder and madness. Like them, Barli’s face has been branded, and like them, Barli’s life now revolves around the monotony of survival. The only light in her life is Farren, the mysterious Sin who hides in his room, who tends the garden Barli trampled, the only other person near her own age.

What makes Farren so dangerous, even for a Sin? What makes him so special that the priests watch him day and night? Why won’t he talk to her? He claims his touch does something to the demons — it calls them forth, makes them stronger. But Barli isn’t afraid to touch him, isn’t afraid to talk to him, to pester him; okay, it’s mostly boredom, but she’s also not scared.

Perhaps it’s her brashness, or the fact that unlike the children, Barli wasn’t handed to the Asylum as a child. She’s seen the outside world, lived and breathed, danced and laughed and loved, but the priests offer her a chance to enter the Black Sin Challenge and earn for herself more freedom. The freedom to be an Asylum sanctioned killer, yes, but also the chance to escape and find her parents again, to find Visea, her girlfriend. The person she loves.

I have mixed feelings regarding this book. Barli is somewhat an unreliable narrator. When waking up and being called a Sin, there is no effort to explain what a Sin is, or what makes her a Sin. Do Sins have abilities, magic, a different shape? Barli — who knows all this — has no reason to explain it, which .. fair. But there’s a great lack of explanation. There’s no description given, which gives the book a timeless feel, and not in the sense of something that will last forever, but rather in that time does not truly exist in this book. There are posters and couches so is this a modern-ish age setting? Dark ages? Is this a more advanced world than our own? Books are plentiful, and the people of this world live on islands. And that’s pretty much the sum total of the world building outside the Asylum. The world inside the Asylum is slightly more sketched out, but it still left me with more questions than answers.

However, all that said, there’s something to this book …

I don’t know what genre I’d put it in. It has elements of gothic horror, with some of the unreality of eldritch horror; there are moments that could have been more action or thriller focused, and it all almost works. But only almost. The mood of this book, the flavor, is interesting. The character of Barli isn’t pleasant or friendly, but she’s not supposed to be. Barli is made of jagged edges held together by survival instinct and indifference. When she’s not able to move and run and work her body into exhaustion, she takes a knife to herself and practices self harm. The thought of killing someone fills her with a mix of curiosity and uncertainty, but she enters into it easily enough. She’s a loyal friend, but a terrible girlfriend. If she was even ever that. You can trust almost nothing Barli says. She is telling her own story to herself, making herself believe in it so sincerely that it surely must be real! Right?

The atmosphere and the characters are almost enough to hold this book together, but the scattered lack of world building and the somewhat forced writing style keep this from being five stars. I think this is either a book you’ll really enjoy or a book you won’t like whatsoever. But for people who enjoy horror, dark characters, dark stories (albeit with — well, let’s call it a happy ending), and character studies with moral and philosophical questions and zero easy answers, then you should have fun with this book.

I am so very curious to see what else the author comes out with. Gormish is definitely someone I’m going to keep an eye on.

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