Part of The Whores’ Asylum is set on Emerald Street, albeit in the 1800s when the area had more dilapidated lodging houses and fewer magazine offices and Zumba classes.
However, even without personal links, Katy Darby’s first novel is a grand gothic adventure. Like the work of Sarah Waters or Susanna Clarke’s wonderful 2004 book Jonathan Strange And Mr. Norrell, The Whores’ Asylum is written as a Victorian period piece. It focuses on the friendship between two young men, naive Edward Fraser and idealistic doctor Stephen Chapman, and Diana Pelham, a complex and secretive young woman who comes between them. Initially the characters and the settings (an Oxford college and the bawdier, seedier part of the city) are established slowly with layers of detail, but then the plot starts to crack along smartly, pulling in the stories told by secondary characters and using them for fuel.
Darby tells her saga using historical documents and letters, a device that throws a useful focus on the stiff social mores of the time. This doesn’t stop her including richly-observed set-pieces, including a duel and debauched aristocratic party.