Review: “Inside the Asylum,” Mary SanGiovanni

Pros: Delightfully horrifying!
Rating: 5 out of 5

Mary SanGiovanni’s Inside the Asylum (A Kathy Ryan Novel) is the sequel to her Behind the Door. Each is a standalone story connected by the occult investigator protagonist Kathy Ryan. Henry Banks woke up from a coma three years ago. He’s committed to a hospital for the criminally insane, as he claims his “imaginary friends” killed the teens who broke into his house. Of course, this being SanGiovanni’s world, he’s right. Maisie, Edgar, Orrin, and the Viper are tulpas, “sentient and more or less autonomous beings brought about by the use of the mind”. Unlike the horrors Kathy has faced before, these creatures and their world of Ayteilu come from Henry’s mind. However, they’ve started acting without his knowledge, killing people at the asylum. And now they want to be “real”–they want substantiation, full autonomy and freedom as real beings. In order to do this, they have to infect reality with Ayteilu and use the occult knowledge belonging to the other inmates–such as Kathy’s psychopathic brother Toby–to bolster themselves.

This story dives right in. Before we’re a third of the way into it, the hospital has been invaded and is becoming an alien landscape. A number of people die, some in gory ways, as the creatures of Ayteilu find ways to manifest in the real world. There’s a bit of whimsy to this volume, as some of those wraiths take bodies from everything from a lawnmower and a rake to a vending machine and a lamp, but it doesn’t undermine the horror at all.

Previous books in this world have been focused more on horrors from other existing worlds. To have an invasion that’s basically coming from one man’s mind is fascinating. He has some sort of natural talent for creating tulpas, and they’re surprisingly powerful. Especially once they get their hands on some of the occult knowledge that Toby and one of the other inmates possess. Toby takes on some nice depth in this installment. He’s still absolutely horrifying, and alien in his own way, but Kathy’s forced to take a more nuanced look at him as his knowledge becomes necessary to destroying the tulpas. The characters in here all have an excellent amount of personality and depth, and that’s hard to do with a character like Toby. I also appreciate that the black custodian wasn’t there to die early or be a mysterious source of wisdom–he was a real and important part of the events.

I’ve read a good handful of books by Mary SanGiovanni, and her Kathy Ryan novels are my favorites. I hope to see more!

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