Meet Ricky Desmond, a kid who has a stepfather so brutal and impossible that one day he loses it and attacks him. He doesn't die, but he's still going to be locked up until he's to his parent's eyes fit to reenter the world. They end up bringing him to the one and only Brookline Asylum, decades before Dan, Abby and Jordan walked the hallways and back when it was still in business treating patients the way biology students treat frogs. Things are pretty simple: Everything and everyone is bad and untrustworthy (or maybe not all) and if his parents won't come back for him he has to leave before the warden's grip locks too tightly for him to resist.
I was always curious about how the Brookline asylum actually operated back in the day since the original series took place after it shut down and became a college. The fact this prequel exists was more than enough for me to be stoked for the long-and-short-at-the-same-time wait to be over and for me to reunite with where all the horrors began. And is it any good? Well, it's my least favourite of the series...Every one honestly gets kind of less phenomenal with each book, but does that mean the series does not deserve your attention? In my opinion, no way.
Madeleine Roux's highest talent is creating as tense a book can be in a small-in-scope but big-for-prisoners situation, and demonstrating the innocence of people that some people sadly don't call normal. I was very surprised that not only is Ricky Desmond queer, but his best friend Kay is a trans girl. These are people in very dangerous situations not just because they are a minority, but because it is the sixties. Ricky is not in the asylum because of that and neither is Kay but they are immediately sympathetic people.
And I would say this book is a mix of Lockdown (a perfect prison book) and Variant (a not that good prison book). When I read Lockdown I was just getting started as a critic and that prison was so secure and scary and escape-proof that it was the prison book to beat. Variant as a result ended up being in a prison that felt with a little effort easily escapable. You see, Brookline Asylum has guards but no security cameras, and bolted doors but parent visits are allowed - to a degree. So, Brookline never felt completely escape proof, but it still works because whenever a prisoner is on the radar of Warden Crawford, it is escape-proof, and Roux was good at creating a familiar but still chilling situation for Ricky and the other prisoners. What that is I won't spoil.
Other than Ricky, Kay, and a rather kind nurse that is so conscientious that I wondered how Warden Crawford would ever hire her, there are no other protagonists that stand out much to me. A few of them do have moments to shine and they kind of remind me of some heavily diagnosed autism kids. I'm autistic myself and I know I'm repeating what I've been saying but this book is as good as any a reminder that back a few generations ago, people were so unaccepting there was basically sadly no hope for some people.
The story ends up moving along just like the others very fast, and unlike Roux's recent House of Furies, which I enjoyed but sometimes had a bit of trouble getting through, the book is like the others very gluey, never not interesting. The book does a perfect acknowledgment of what would happen if the characters actually escaped; how they'd either be taken back in by their parents or become criminals to survive, the latter being more likely and that's a key plot element to make me want to find out what would happen next. I was a little worried though, because this is a prequel, and it's as far as I know not going to have a sequel so this book was all the time I would have, so it all depended on the ending. And how was the ending? Well, it's...realistic. But out of all the Asylum books, this one was the least nerve-rackling and left me desiring more, the main reason this is my least favourite. But when all is said and done, the book's willingness to have a strong friendship between two LGBT characters and some claustrophobia in the actually compelling second act make Escape from Asylum not a thumbs-down entry.