Review by: Mark Palm
I have read my share of books set in insane asylums. Heaven knows I don’t want to go there, but I can definitely see its use as a setting; particularly when you want to scare the crap out your readers. That’s what Sarah Dalton does in My Daylight Monsters, a novella that starts the Mary Hades series.
Mary is a typical English teen, except for her ability to see ghosts. Except that isn’t what they are, exactly. They are frightening visions that come to her as harbingers of bad luck. She sees one before a fire at her school kills a girl.
Either way, what makes them so scary is that Ms. Dalton does not really tell us what they are. We see them through Mary’s eyes, and what she sees has scared her so much that she agrees to be committed to the psych ward of the local hospital. There she meets her fellow inmates, who are all well-drawn, particularly Mo and Lacey, who become her best friends. Instead of getting better, however things get progressively worse. Mary’s meds are taking their toll, and the patients at the Terminal Care ward next door are dropping like flies, so much so that the staff is getting worried. Mary and her fellow inmate know that something is wrong, but who is going to believe them? Not only is their sanity questionable, but they are teenagers. All of this works wonderfully. The atmosphere is constantly tense, and scary, as Mary decides that she has to take matters into her own hands, for the people that are dying as well as herself.
One of the real strengths of the story is the balance between the real-world terrors of the psych ward, and the supernatural ones that only Mary can see. It’s a fine line that Ms. Dalton rides masterfully. There are some terrific plot twists that my role prevents me from spilling, and Ms. Dalton does an excellent job in making Mary, and the terrors she has to face, very real. An imposing sense of the weight of things unseen, and definitely malign, hangs over this book. It’s a tricky thing to pull off, but Ms. Dalton does, giving up enough hope to keep the story moving, but reminding us that things don’t always, or even often, turn out all right. Mary comes out at the end scared, scarred, but strong, and definitely sane.