Author: Kathy Hepinstall
Published: April 10, 2012
Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars
Amid the mayhem of the Civil War, Virginia plantation wife Iris Dunleavy is put on trial and convicted of madness. It is the only reasonable explanation the court can see for her willful behavior, so she is sent away to Sanibel Asylum to be restored to a good, compliant woman. Iris knows, though, that her husband is the true criminal; she is no lunatic, only guilty of disagreeing with him on notions of justice, cruelty, and property. On this remote Florida island, cut off by swamps and seas and military blockades, Iris meets a wonderful collection of residents–some seemingly sane, some wrongly convinced they are crazy, some charmingly odd, some dangerously unstable. Which of these is Ambrose Weller, the war-haunted Confederate soldier whose memories terrorize him into wild fits that can only be calmed by the color blue, but whose gentleness and dark eyes beckon to Iris. The institution calls itself modern, but Iris is skeptical of its methods, particularly the dreaded “water treatment.” She must escape, but she has found new hope and love with Ambrose. Can she take him with her? If they make it out, will the war have left anything for them to make a life from, back home? Blue Asylum is a vibrant, beautifully-imagined, absorbing story of the lines we all cross between sanity and madness. It is also the tale of a spirited woman, a wounded soldier, their impossible love, and the undeniable call of freedom.
Finally, a book set in the Civil War that is not automatically against the Confederacy! I was a little hesitant to read Blue Asylum, just because I’m sick and tired of the PC “the Confederacy is evil” crap that everyone is spewing nowadays. Thankfully, this book handled it very well; it talked about the evils of slavery combined with loyalty to the South and to states’ rights, without mixing them all together. I appreciated it very much. I also loved the setting of Sanibel Island, off the coast of Florida! I already looked it up and apparently it is a popular vacation destination. Ivan and I might have to go . . . Cuz it sounds beautiful and tropical and sunny and warm! And of course, an asylum!
Unfortunately, there were no illegal experiments going on, but I did like the look into true insanity vs. true sanity. I think the most interesting, if annoying, character is Dr. Cowell. I liked seeing him grow and his viewpoints change as he meets new patients. He is a very realistic character who seems to fit the historical setting around him. As much as I like Ambrose, his character was a bit predictable for me. He has a simple case of PTSD, there, mystery solved. His story of war time horrors was also a little on the bland side. The one surprise element of his story did indeed surprise me, hence I didn’t write him off completely. Iris was ok. I wonder what it’s like to literally have multiple men chasing you . . . I really hate women like that. Especially when they act like they don’t know it. Give me a break.
Overall, this was an interesting read. Definitely not a YA book; way too many sexual elements. But I did enjoy reading it, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good historical fiction book.