book review

Book Review: Welcome to the Madhouse

WELCOME TO THE MADHOUSE by Valerie Anne Hudson is "a triumph of historical fiction—as vivid historically as it is gripping." Check out more of what Steph Huddleston has to say in her review of this indie historical novel.

Book Review: Welcome to the Madhouse

Reviewed by Steph Huddleston

A triumph of historical fiction—Welcome to the Madhouse is about as vivid historically as it is gripping.

Eliza joins the Maddington household as a maid in order to support her impoverished family. Within the grand walls of the townhome, she finds hard work as well as lasting friendships. But there’s a reason the house is nicknamed “The Madhouse.” Eliza soon finds herself a troubled witness to dark secrets. 

When her best friend Annie falls for the handsome the son of the house, Eliza sees her friend’s life unravelling before her eyes. In this world, life can be hard on a woman—especially those embroiled in scandal and put on trial. 

Eliza knows her friend is innocent of the crimes she’s accused of. And she knows exactly who needs to be held responsible. 

Welcome To The Madhouse strikes the balance of a detailed, well-researched setting, without overwriting. Readers won’t be overwhelmed or bored by details, but instead, find themselves encountering a vivid 1890s London, both beautiful and dark. 

“Of all the days for it to be foggy, why did this have to be one of them? A real pea-souper it was, too, greenish in color and foul-smelling, making it hard to breathe.”

This story is deceptively simple in that it’s a fictitious account of a maid’s early employment, but the story structure and viewpoint allow for readers to encounter a number of different characters across different walks of life. This gives a wide perspective on the many dangers women faced (and continue to face).

The book expertly handles the many dangers faced by impoverished families: starvation, disease, childhood mortality, prostitution, poor job conditions, and the looming threat of the workhouse. And as we see Eliza step into a different world, that of the more wealthy, other dangers faced are exposed like unfair dismissal, work conditions, discrimination in access to medical training, abortion, and oppression of women by men. 

Welcome To The Madhouse offers a compassionate lens to women trying to do their best with the resources available to them. 

The courtroom drama in which the book forms its circular narrative holds the tension across the novel, aiding in good pacing and a desire to know how the story will conclude. It’s refreshing to encounter historical fiction that doesn’t shy away from difficulty and still manages to offer hope. With each character feeling fleshed out and purposeful in a wider plot, it’s a wonderful read.

Welcome to The Madhouse offers a critique of the power held over those in vulnerable positions; in this novel, that’s women. We witness Annie and Eliza navigate a world that has not been designed to elevate them, and in many ways, to actively suppress and harm them.

“They were men; what did they know about being female, powerless, always at the mercy of men?”

In a world that seems to be in the midst of discussions about a woman’s right to her body and the structures that should be in place to hold those in positions of power accountable, Welcome to The Madhouse will resonate with contemporary readers.

Genre: Historical Fiction / Romance

Print Length: 184 pages

ISBN: 979-8817969634

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