Treasure hunting. Code breaking. Doodles and audio clips. If your reading experience doesn’t include these elements, then I guess you haven’t picked up Emilie Autumn’s new ebook edition of The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls. While the detective skills may seem more fitting for a mystery novel, TAFWVG is actually part-autobiography, part-historical fantasy about being institutionalized for mental illness in the Victorian era and today. Emilie Autumn continues her dedication to a personalized relationship with her fans by developing this new level of interactive fiction.
The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls begins with the true story of the author Emilie’s suicide attempt and the consequence: her semi-voluntary hospitalization at the behest of her psychiatrist. But Emilie soon finds that checking out is not as easy as checking in. There follows a Bly-esque expose of the treatment (or lack thereof) she receives in the psych ward. Mysterious letters from “Emily with a y,” Emilie’s alter ego from the Victorian era, help provide a mental escape from her misery. The lines between fantasy and reality begin to blur and Emily’s story takes over. We read of her beginnings as a musical prodigy, the machinations of a Conservatoire that takes advantage of talented young girls like her, a cruel patron, and finally her commitment into an insane asylum. There, she endures unspeakable horrors but also finds solace in the friendship of her fellow inmates (and an erudite army of rats).
The Asylum for Wayward Victorian Girls has gone through several iterations, with aspirations to culminate in a Broadway musical. It was first published as a beautifully illustrated hard-cover book in 2009, and Emilie herself recorded an updated audiobook version that came out last year. With each iteration, Emilie has perfected the story, removing unnecessary bits, adding new scenes, and keeping her fans in the loop throughout the whole process. She has quite the cult following, who call themselves the Plague Rats. Now we have the ebook, complete with doodled clues and web links to puzzles that unlock embedded musical clips, which combine to create an immersive, multi-sensory reading experience. The clues allegedly add up to point to the location of a buried treasure, a special on-theme necklace created by Emilie. As of this writing, no one has yet solved the mystery. There is also a secret Facebook page for readers to support each other as they solve the puzzles and participate in a series of Instagram challenges to promote the book. If you love close-knit fandoms, you may want to see if the plague rats are your kind of crowd.
Hark! I am issuing a PLAGUE RAT CHALLENGE in 20 Rounds!⠀ ⠀ How far will YOU get?⠀ ⠀ Let’s play, Ratties!!!⠀ ⠀ ROUND 1!⠀ ⠀ Step 1: Take a photo of your best “Rat Claw” in front of the Amazon screen showing the date you pre-ordered the new Asylum eBook. (If you return to the Asylum eBook page after your order goes through, the page will show a message containing this information—try it and see!). You can check out my own example above. Get as creative as you like with your Claw as I will repost those who blow my little mind.⠀ ⠀ Step 2: Post your photo to Instagram, and include hashtags #TheAsylumBook AND #TheAsylumForWaywardVictorianGirls AND #PlagueRatChallengeRound1. You MUST include all three tags so that I can find you! Lastly, you must include the link to your post in the comments section of this post you are now reading. ⠀ Step 3: Check your comments. I will personally respond to your post (give me a moment), and assign you your own ASYLUM INMATE NUMBER to keep for life, along with your instructions for Round 2!⠀ ⠀ Are you committed?⠀ ⠀ (P.S. Don't have the eBook yet? It's only $2.99, and it's friggen magical! ***LINK IN BIO***)⠀ ⠀ #PlagueRats #PlagueRatsRule #PlagueRatRevolution #amazonbestseller
The trigger warnings for this book are many: Rape, abuse, violence, suicide attempts, abortion and miscarriage, sexual harassment by a mental health professional. It is not a light read, nor, at times, a happy one. But through it, Emilie addresses some important messages, including problems that plague the mental health industry, how to find strength in the midst of depression, and the power of sisterhood.
Overall, if you can handle a bit of gore and serious topics, if you’re intrigued by this mish-mash of media, and if you have a gothic aesthetic and morbid sensibilities or are intrigued by those who do, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.