Elysian Fields, a place cut off from the rest of the world due to a virus known as the Living Rot, is meant to be a paradise for Cheyenne and the others who have been kidnapped and brought to the small subdivision. But that’s just it. They were kidnapped and are now forced to play parts that Teo Richardson, the one who brought them to Elysian Fields, wants them to play. And if they don’t play the parts in a way that pleases him, they will no longer remain in Elysian Fields.
The Dollhouse Asylum is reminiscent of Lucy Christopher’s Stolen–only much, much creepier. Cheyenne, and the others she was brought with, have been bestowed with new names that–Cheyenne’s being Persephone–“reflect the most tragic romances ever told” (back cover of The Doll House Asylum). But there is something sinister with these tragic romances that makes The Dollhouse Asylum fairly unique among the YA genre.
At first, Cheyenne was a character for me that was hard to like because it was obvious that there was something off about Teo right up front because of the mere fact that he had to kidnap people in order to bring them to Elysian Fields. She was obsessed with Teo in unhealthy ways, but I suspect Mary Gray didn’t want us to sympathize with Cheyenne’s affections, as she doesn’t write Teo in a way that makes him likeable at all, not even in the beginning. Cheyenne’s affections seemed almost Stockholm Syndrome-like, but she soon loses any and all feelings she had for Teo when he does something unforgivable. This is when Cheyenne starts planning to escape Elysian Fields, knowing it is not the paradise Teo made it out to be.
Then there is the Living Rot, which are your basic zombies. Teo brought Cheyenne and everyone else to Elysian Fields to help them escape the scourge of the Living Rot, and even showed them footage of the Living Rot overtaking their world. Immediately I knew there was something off about Teo’s supposed desire to protect them from the Living Rot, and I suspect Mrs. Gray wants us to know this because it makes Teo that much more sinister. And it does. To question whether or not the Living Rot may or may not be real casts Teo in a vicious light that makes any and all background story to try and justify why he is the way he is obsolete.
As for the pacing, it starts out slow initially. What Teo does at first to determine who gets to stay in Elysian Fields and who leaves is to have his inhabitants hold parties. These inhabitants are divided off into couples to match their tragic romances: Romeo and Juliet, for example. If their soiree doesn’t meet Teo’s satisfaction, they are gone. The pacing picks up after the first party, and this is when Cheyenne, and the readers, realize what a monster Teo truly is.
Teo himself is a well-crafted antagonist. Mary Gray does an excellent job of creating the perfect psychopath. Teo is obsessed with numbers, Originally there are eight couples at Elysian Fields, but he wants to bring that number down to seven. Then, eventually, he wants to bring that number down to three. He is also into literature, art, and math, all subjects that point to his incredible intelligence. Being the typical psychopath, it is impossible for him to feel empathy or sympathy. Any atrocities he commits he laughs at, and Cheyenne has no choice but to pretend the atrocities don’t bother her in order to protect herself and receive an elusive vaccine that Teo says will protect them all from the Living Rot.
Elysian Fields is also a very dark place. While the interior of the houses give off this façade of grandeur, Elysian fields is surrounded by a forest of thick trees–and a barbwire fence. Cheyenne also manages to run into a snake at the beginning of the book, one that seems to be purposely placed. Elysian Fields alone had me questioning the validity of the Living Rot. Yes, one could suspect the fence was to keep the Living Rot out, but after Teo’s first atrocity, one has to question the ultimate purpose of the fence.
The one thing that I disliked in this novel was the overall development of the relationship between Cheyenne and Teo’s brother, Marcus. There doesn’t seem to be enough of these two for me to feel any true attachment to their relationship. I did want Cheyenne and Marcus to end up together since there is so much darkness in this book, but I don’t feel like they were developed enough as a couple. With how many times they sneak out and go to the fence, one would think there would be more sneaking out and seeing one another in order to develop some more intimacy between the two. I understand this is risky, but throughout the book, I felt that Teo wasn’t keeping an eye on them that much to make certain they weren’t doing anything that would anger him. But this facet of the book in no way ruins the book for me.
I give The Dollhouse Asylum a 4.5 stars out of 5.