Book Review: Masque of the Red Death, by Bethany Griffin

March 14, 2012 at 6:17 pm (Book Reviews, Giveaway) (, , , , , )

Araby Worth just wants to forget.
Forget her dead twin brother and all the things he’ll never do, forget the plague that devestates the city, forget the pain and the misery and all the things that used to be true. For the rich of the city, the answer is the Debauchery Club and others like it, where drugs and drink and dubious pleasures can be had merely for the asking, and for a few precious moments she can simply forget.
But there are some who don’t want her to forget. There’s Will, the doorman at the club, drawn to glittery girls with unnaturally colored hair, who wants to show Araby the good that’s worth living for. And there’s Elliot, the prince’s nephew, who looks to her- the daughter of the scientist who’s made the only significant advances against the plague- for help in staging a revolution. In a city where life is fragile and fleeting, where contamination can help at any point, wracked between the murderous impulses of a crazy prince and the rioting forces of a rogue reverend, Araby has to decide for herself if there are things worth dying for.
And the harder choice- are there things worth living for?

If the title sounds familiar, it’s because it draws its inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s story of the same name. And if I may say, rather does it justice.

It’s a captivating world of extremes. The city and country are never named, there are never any dates given, so it could be anywhere that has a deep harbor and swamp. We get a definite Victorian sense- the basic level of technology, the clothing, some of the remnant attitudes- but it lends flavor rather than nailing us down into a specific mindset. It gives us a city entirely isolated from everything else, nearly floating in time and space and becoming something entirely defined by the plague. In a world where death is imminent, there’s still a huge divide between the rich and the poor. The poor are more susceptible to the disease from hunger and privation, from more constant exposure. The rich are locked away in clean towers, and if the foods aren’t the imported luxuries they were before, they have more than enough. The rich have easy access to the masks developed by Dr. Worth; though not foolproof, the porcelain half-masks significantly reduce the risk of exposure. Where the poor struggle to earn another day, another week, another meal for their children, the rich go play in the clubs where decadence and decay coexist.

It is an incredibly tribute to the skill of the writing that we have so much interest in characters that are generally unsympathetic. For a great deal of the book, Araby is simply adrift. All she wants is oblivion, so she goes along with what she’s told, goes places she doesn’t have a particular interest in going, because as far as she’s concerned her life ended the day her twin brother Finn died. She made a vow that she wouldn’t do anything he wouldn’t get to do, but every day she’s still alive breaks that. She’s cold, inside and out, and the prickly return of warmth is genuinely painful. Despite that, she has a deep goodness to her as well. Even when she tries not to care, even when she can be callous about a starving child’s potential to survive, she does care. She doesn’t think there’s much of a difference she can make, but what small things she can, she does. Small things, like trying to get a mask for a child who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford one. Handing out apples, sending a care package of food.

Her course over the story is captivating, as she slowly emerges from a cage she’s constructed for herself. It’s a terrifying prospect, and she comes into a world where nothing is certain and she doesn’t have any idea who to trust. There’s a core of strength that always had the potential to be there but this is the first time she’s had to rely on it- the first time she’s had to decide to use it.

Elliot, nephew to insane Prince Prospero and older brother to Araby’s best friend April, is a destructive force of nature, even as he’s a large part of the impetus that forces Araby to grow. He’s damaged, perhaps even broken, vacillating between extremes of personality that make it difficult to trust him. He can be ruthless, even admits he shouldn’t be trusted, but there’s something painfully vulnerable about him that’s…endearing is the wrong word, but I think compelling would be apt. He’s dangerous to everyone and everything around him, reckless and intense and not nearly steady enough to place faith in him as the leader of a revolution. That he’s ultimately well-intentioned isn’t exaggerating the truth- that he’s capable of carrying out these intentions without dragging everyone to hell is more in question.

For all that Will is a better person, he’s just as dangerous in his own way. Where Elliot forces Araby to act, Will forces her to feel, and with the ice that coated her heart after her brother’s death, that may be more painful. He’s guardian to two younger siblings- easily my favorite characters of the book- and has the sense and maturity to acknowledge that the allure of glittery girls is too often without substance. His hope that Araby might prove to be more is part of what pushes her to become more. He’s earnest and open- except when he isn’t. For all that he’s willing to speak of, there’s more that he doesn’t mention. His openness is deceptive, but his warmth isn’t.

The politics of the city are both murky and restless. Prince Prospero rules from a castle three hours from the plague-ridden city, but there’s little doubt that his word is both law and death. There’s also no doubt that he is absolutely insane. Araby’s family plays a delicate dance in serving the prince but keeping a safe distance from him, a manuever far more involved than Araby’s ever realized. Prospero makes it a point to control all the scientists of the city, and thus control in some measure access to preventative measures. But there’s another power rising in the city, more sinister than Elliot’s attempts at revolution. Reverend Malcontent appeals to the frightened masses, the panic stretching into terror as more and more come to feel that science has failed them. Religion has been a lost art long enough that Malcontent proposes his own, and he has a large share of followers that are more than willing to shed blood to bring about their vision of grace.

This is an amazing book, moody and dark and atmospheric, full of choice and life in a world of death and despair, and it’s one you don’t want to miss. Release was moved up to 24 April 2012, so put it on your calendars!

And in the meantime, I’ve got an ARC up for grabs. All you have to do is answer this question in the comments: what classic book or story would you love to see in a YA retelling? For example, I’d love to see a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s original The Little Mermaid, complete with tragic ending.Added 3.23.12- ARC will also be accompanied by fun swag from Bethany Griffin! In light of this, entries will be extended through 3 April 2012.

Until next time~
Cheers!

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18 Comments

  1. Ashlyn said,

    I’m currently studying Romeo & Juliet in English and I’d love to read a modern retelling of the play! It would be interesting to see how Romeo and Juliet would interact of today’s day and age.

  2. Shelver506 said,

    Oh, I’ve given this question way too much thought. I would love to see Jane Eyre from Mr. Rochester’s point of view (most versions are a retelling of Jane, told from the wife’s POV, or erotic in nature). Ooh, or the tale of Rumplestiltskin! Everyone ignores that poor tale.

  3. Jessica Baker said,

    I’d like to see a really good modernized retelling of Rapunzel. I’m not sure why exactly, but I’ve always liked her. Gorgeous, long hair and all. :) I like the idea of Rumplestiltskin, too, but from the child’s point of view when they’re older. That would be a good story, I think. Thank you for having this giveaway!!! :)

  4. Chen said,

    Is it too late to enter?

    Anyways, “The Little Mermaid” is actually my favorite fairy tale b/c of the sad, emotional ending.

    To answer your question, I would love to see a YA retelling of the fairy tale “The Snow Queen.” It would be an epic story :)

  5. A Underhill (@123turtles) said,

    I’d like to see a modern retelling of Rumpelstiltskin. Actually, I’d like to see most any of the typical childhood fairy tales retold with their original stories, not the edited/re-worked versions. Fairy tales are pretty gruesome, and I like that! :-)

  6. Valia said,

    This is kind of weird but I’d love to see Macbeth retold! Idk, I love Shakespeare but I think some of the authors now days can put a serious spin on the story! thanks for the giveaway! ;-)

    valialind(AT)gmail(DOT)com

  7. Kara Taylor said,

    I would love to see another Poe retelling…maybe the Murders on the Rue Morgue :)

  8. anjanavasan said,

    I’d want to see Rumpelstiltskin re-told. He’s a unique character and if a book’s written re-telling his story with a twist, it would be pretty awesome!
    Thanks for the giveaway! :)

    vasan.anjana@gmail.com

  9. anjanavasan said,

    I’d like to see Rumpelstiltskin re-told. He’s a pretty unique character and if his story’s re-written with a twist, I think it would make a great read!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

    vasan.anjana@gmail.com

  10. Katie @ Blook Girl said,

    Wow, great review! :-) Masque of the Red Death is in my Top Three of 2012! I can’t wait to give it a read.

    I would love to see Thumbelina, also by Hans Christian Anderson, as a retelling. I just love the story and the characters and would be really interested to see how someone else would interpret the story.

    Thank you for the giveaway! <3

  11. emilysreadingroom said,

    I’d love to see a retelling of Robison Crusoe. Or Treasure Island! There isn’t enough good pirate books.

  12. emilysreadingroom said,

    I’d like to see a good retelling of Robison Crusoe or Treasure Island!

  13. LiLi said,

    I would love to read a retelling of Mulan. It may not be a classic story but it is my favorite disney princess who doesn’t need to be rescued. And who also saves all of China…with a little help. :)

  14. Traci said,

    I’d like to see a retelling of Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. It was one of the first books I read that wasn’t Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley Twins and it holds sentimental value. :)
    Thanks gpr the giveaway! I can’t wait to read this book!!

  15. Tal Rejwan said,

    I would love to see retelling of Alice in wonderland… just dark and twisted. something like the game ‘alice mcgee’.

  16. Dani Nguyen said,

    Has Peter Pan been redone? It was one of my favorites as a child, but I can’t think of any recent YA retellings of it.

    I can’t wait to read Masque of Red Death. It sounds so good! Thanks for the chance to win!

  17. A Underhill (@123turtles) said,

    Oops… didn’t see that Rumpelstiltskin had already been mentioned…. How about Snow White & Rose Red?

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