Everything is in ruins. A devastating plague has decimated the population. And those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles to pieces around them. So what does Araby Worth have to live for? Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery make-up . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all. But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club. And Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither boy is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does. And Araby may find something not just to live for, but to fight for—no matter what it costs her.
Hardcover, 320 pages
Expected publication: April 24th 2012 by Harper Collins
Three and a half stars: A book that delves into a dark dystopian, steampunk world.
The Masque of the Red Death descends the reader into a re-imagined telling of Poe's famous short story by the same name. The book takes us to a steampunk-dystopian setting complete with masks, disease, steam carriages, debauchery, despair, death and corpse hungry crocodiles. A plague has decimated the majority of the population. A virulent air born virus attacks the victim with fevers, pus oozing sores and ultimately death. A brilliant scientist invented a mask that blocks the contagions but it must be worn at all times. Unfortunately, the masks will only work for the person who originally breaths into it, they cannot be interchanged. Of course, a life saving commodity such as these masks are scarce, except for the very rich who hoard them and even have numerous masks for various occasions. These wealthy and elite people choose to visit many of the clubs throughout the city, in order to spend their time sealed away from the pestilence and decay outside. Here in the opulent darkness of the club, they bide their time, mask free, engaging in acts of debauchery while sampling mind altering drugs that allow them to escape their troubles. Araby, the daughter of the mask inventor, floats through her days in a daze. Nights are corseted dresses, glitter, darkened rooms and forgetfulness. She is a shadow, never fully in the world since the death of her beloved twin brother, Finn. Guilt drives her to the clubs. She refuses to love and to live. Yet, she has eyes for the mysterious boy who is the bouncer at The Debauchery Club. His eyes and swirling tattoos draw her in, but she can't let herself fall under his spell. Araby and her best friend April head to the club for another night of fog and forgetfulness. A flash of a silver syringe and Araby remembers no more. She wakes the next day in a strange bed, April is missing, and events are set in motion that lead Araby down a path fraught with deceit and danger. Can Araby learn to live again or will the plague claim her along with the rest of humanity?
What I Liked:
- I enjoyed the dark atmosphere of the tale. The residents live every day in terror, afraid of the particles of death on the wind. A life behind masks has taken away many of the decidedly human traits. Facial expressions are hidden behind the porcelain and kissing has become the most intimate form of passionate expression, for one must risk infection by removing the mask in order to touch lips with another. Death lurks around every corner and in the river are thousands of hungry crocodiles, feeding off the dead. In the air, along with the pathogens are giant bats, genetically engineered to feed on the mosquitos that carry the plague, but the bats in turn, are diseased and attack the humans. Ms. Griffin does an excellent job in fashioning this dark and depraved world, where the rich glitter and glutton and the poor scavenge and die. It is a cruel world, indeed.
- I reread the Poe version of this story and was impressed by the vision of Ms. Griffin. She pulls from Poe's ideas and fashions them into this modern steampunk-dystopian setting that will appeal to fans of both genres. If you have yet to read Poe's version, read it.
- Araby has such an interesting voice. She narrates this story in a stream of conscious format, so everything is told through her thoughts. She is full of self loathing and apathy. Her descriptions are often dichotomies, but they are unique. I really enjoyed the author's writing style. It is different from your typical YA thoroughfare.
- While the majority of the characters are living lives filled with opulence and luxury there are a few characters who represent those struggling daily to survive. Among them is my favorite character, Will. A young man who works nights at the club in order to care for his two young, orphaned siblings. Will provides the spark of goodness that is extinguished in all the other characters. His self sacrificing acts for his brother and sister allow me to have hope for humanity.
- I absolutely adore the cover of this book. It is gorgeous. One of my favorite of the year.
And The Not So Much:
- While I loved the ominous, absorbing setting of this book, unfortunately it lacked detail in the world building. The reader is thrust into this dark world and spends the entire time fumbling in the darkness for the light switch of illuminating information. There is hardly any details on the plague such as: how long does it take to succumb, is it world wide, how long has it been killing, where did it come from? Then one of the key elements, the masks, are a mystery. All you learn is that they are porcelain, they have some type of air filtration capability and can only be worn by one person. There is no discussion on how they work exactly and what they look like. I found this to be an extremely frustrating aspect of this book. I was fascinated by the concept of the masks, but there is very little information to glean regarding them in the book. Towards the end of the book, another virulent sickness, The Red Death, appears and again details are very sketchy on this new disease as well. This is a book with such shining promise, but falters due to meager world building and weak descriptions.
- The characters in this book are, for the most part, hard to connect with and unlikeable. I did enjoy Araby's distinct narration, but outwardly I could not care about her. She is a ghost like character, flitting through the pages, filled with loathing and guilt, she doesn't care whether she lives or dies. This behavior makes me, as the reader, not care either. Don't get me wrong, she is very well written but sometimes when you don't connect with your narrator it diminishes the read. I like the stream of consciousness style, but in this book there is so much that gets glossed over while other parts come across as jumbled and confusing.
- This book tries to present a love triangle but this is one instance where the love triangle does not work because the secondary love interest, Elliot the rich aristocrat, does not ever solidify himself as a legitimate suitor. So while on the surface, it appears to be a triangle it in essence is not.
- The plot of this book confusing and underdeveloped. The majority of the book focuses on Elliot trying to get Araby to help him revolt against his uncle, Prince Prospero. The pace is slow, and the only thing that kept me entertained was the engaging writing and fascinating world. Finally, when the book starts getting exciting and begins to build it just ends, no resolution and not even a cliffhanger. This book really felt like it went nowhere.
The Red Masque of Death with its foreboding dystopian setting will snatch your attention and drag you into its world of glamour, debauchery, plague and death. It is an entertaining revision of Poe's work. I applaud Ms. Griffin for refashioning Poe into a modern book that blends dystopia with steampunk. Ms. Griffin with her unique and engaging style of writing shows me that she is definitely a talented author to watch. The book does suffer from a few flaws but for the most part it is an enjoyable read, and I will be continuing the series.
"If I were honest with myself, I might admit that these few moments are why I come here, week after week. Swirling tattoos cover his arms, climbing up from the collar of his shirt to twist around his throat, the ends hidden by his tousled dark hair. I try not to look at him. He could make me happy. His attention, a hint of admiration in his eyes….I don't deserve happiness."
"The charcoal sky spits cold rain as we rumble to a stop at a crossroad."
"The girl's grief is a mindless, crushing thing, and somehow I feel it, even though I am supposed to be numb."
"It's the first time you've looked in the mirror for more than half a second."
"I like the idea of making the world better, instead of hiding from all the ugliness."
"Just because you don't want to see something doesn't mean that it will go away. Do you think inhumanity doesn't exist if you pretend not to see it?" Or maybe get too drunk to understand? We've forgotten the things that make life worthwhile."
"The buildings surrounding the little park seem more sinister than they did just a few minutes before. The empty windows, the door hanging from its hinges. The lack of sunlight...."
"My uncle doesn't understand people who can make things. All he knows how to destroy. Your mother makes silence into music. He is fascinated by that."