Monday, June 10, 2013

Review: Masque of the Red Death - Bethany Griffin

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
Series: Red Death #1
Genre: YA, classic retelling, steampunk
Published on April 24, 2012
Published by Greenwillow Books
Pages: 319
Read From: 6.1.13 - 6.3.13

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 around them. 
So what does Araby Worth have to live for? 

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery makeup. . . .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 is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does. 
Now Araby may find not just something to live for, but something to fight for - no matter what it costs her.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Yes; it's mysterious, Gothic-esque, and intriguing. I don't even mind the character impersonator, because you can't see her face or anything especially definite about her.

Characters: I wasn't expecting to like Araby all that much, but she surprised me. For a girl who has suffered from so much trauma - losing her twin brother in a violent manner - Araby is blessedly unemotional. Not to say that she doesn't express feelings - she does - but Araby isn't flying off the handle or breaking down all of the time. She keeps her cool when a situation is dire and is very matter-of-fact about her emotions. Whether this level-headedness will persist in Dance of the Red Death has yet to be seen. Araby may be fine now, but she is entirely capable of taking the same road as Katniss and turn into a puddle. April is a loose cannon, but as a side character, I was all right with that. Her personality served the purpose it was supposed to, and even she surprised me later on in the story, with her self-sacrifice and blase attitude about what's happening. Probably not surprisingly, I adored Will. He was kind and not too proud to accept what little help Araby could extend to him and his siblings (who were, by the way, genuinely adorable kids). Elliott was interesting. I didn't like him, nor did I necessarily dislike him. While Araby kept insisting that he was arrogant, I never saw that. What I did see was a very unstable personality, someone who affected surety to order to hide what he was really feeling, and an overall untrustworthy person. He has his agenda and he's going to do anything to get what he wants. If that means being someone's friend, fine, but he'll abandon said friend as soon as it becomes necessary. Characters like Elliott make a story's cast very interesting, and he added a lot to this one. The times we Readers meet Prince Prospero, the villain, are entirely forgettable. Prince Prospero didn't make an impression on me at all, which is sad, because he certainly sounds like a creepy guy.

The Romance: There is a tentative love triangle. Ever since Araby has been going to the Debauchery Club, she's had an interest in Will. And Will reciprocates. Araby will admit that Elliott is attractive, but she doesn't trust him, and her crush on Will is pretty darn deep. Unfortunately for her, Elliott is falling for her. In Masque of the Red Death, the love triangle actually isn't very annoying - or even very prominent. Political intrigue takes center stage to it. And so long as Araby keeps her first impression of Elliott constant, things should be all right. Because only an idiot would fall for Elliott; the dude is clearly in need of psychotherapy. The times that the love triangle does get kind of annoying is when Elliott and Will are in the same room together, as they start behaving like boys their age and glare and posture at each other.

Plot: A plague has swept the nation (of America?), killing thousands. The only way to stay safe is to wear porcelain masks specifically designed to keep the plague germs away. But Prince Prospero controls the manufacturing of these masks, and only the very rich can afford them. Araby Worth is the daughter of Phineas Worth, the scientist who invented the masks. After the plague took her twin brother, she's been on a downward spiral to oblivion, hanging out at the Debauchery Club where she can get drugs that help her forget. But then her friend April goes missing, and April's enigmatic brother Elliott approaches Araby with a proposal. He intends to overthrow Prince Prospero and rebuild the city's prosperity. But he needs Araby to steal the mask blueprints from her father. Thinking his cause a worthy one, Araby agrees. But as time goes on, she becomes more and more embroiled in Elliott's revolution, and she begins to suspect that maybe Elliott isn't as trustworthy as she first thought. And then a plague worse than first appears: the Red Death. The world of Masque of the Red Death is both disturbingly enchanting and maddeningly confusing. I think it takes place in the future, but the technology and fashions are steampunk, with steam carriages, airships, corsets, and muskets. The world feels both modern and historic, which I loved and hated with equal measure. I am assuming it took place in a devastated America, but the story never says - which I am actually more okay with than I thought I would be. I can never see America turning into a monarchy. The plot itself, though, is very engaging. Elliott's rebellion, naturally, isn't the only one; there's another major one led by a Reverend Malcontent, and they're causing all sorts of havoc. The intrigue and sabotage keeps the story moving and overshadows the romance enough to keep it from becoming annoying. But if you're hoping that Masque of the Red Death is anything like Edgar Allan Poe's very short story, you might be disappointed. The original idea of the Red Death is borrowed from the story, and Prince Prospero's masked balls, but that's it. Even so, this Masque of the Red Death has its own creepiness and ambiance that is just as intriguing as the original.

Believability: My biggest issue was the masks. How did they work? Was there a super-fine filter built into them? And why could only one person use one mask? That seemed like a convenient aspect of the masks that was thrown into patch up potential plot holes, and made no real sense. And why did they make the masks out of porcelain? What did the masks even look like? At times I got the impression that they were shaped like Venetian masks, while other times it sounded like they just covered the nose and mouth.

Writing Style: First person, present tense. And it actually worked. The Author was able to capture a lot of the moody ambiance of Araby's world through the first person, present tense narration without it feeling overly movie-ish. While not poetic like Victoria Schwab's present tense narrations, Bethany Griffin definitely joins the slim ranks of the very few Authors who actually made me like present tense.

Content: There's drug abuse, and very slight sexual allusions. But nothing graphic in either quarter.

Conclusion: With the break-out of the Red Death, the city has been thrown into absolute chaos. It's a perfect moment for Elliott's people to seize control. The only problem is Reverend Malcontent has had the same idea. The climax was exciting, fast-paced, and full of plot twists that I was totally not expecting. One of them I was at first very distraught over, but decided that it was an interesting twist. The second one was really good and wholly surprising. Masque of the Red Death was a "maybe-good/maybe-bad" read. I wasn't certain that I would like it - in fact, I was pretty sure that it was going to be no good. But it turned out to be much better than I thought it would be. Araby was a good protagonist, Will was likable, Elliott was interesting, and the world and plot were engaging. Sometimes one cannot fully judge a book even by its synopsis.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fifteen-and-up, great for fans of more futuristic steampunk and strong female protagonists.

Others in This Series:
1)Masque of the Red Death
2)Dance of the Red Death

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