Review | Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin (Masque of the Red Death, #1)

Reviewer: Christina
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Age Group: YA
Genres: Dystopian (post-apocalyptic undertones), steampunk, romance
Pages: 319 (hardcover)
Format/Source: Hardcover, borrowed from library
Find the Book: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository

Rating: DNF (approx. 2 stars)

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.

And Araby may find not just something to live for, but something to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

I was all set to adore this book. How could I not when it’s an expansion of one of my favorite short stories of all time? Edgar Allan Poe’s short but tantalizing classic piece, “The Masque of the Red Death”, opens the way to a dark, decadent world of foul air and opulent towers. I fell in love with it straightaway once I’d had a chance to digest the whole thing. So how could I resist this book, really? The premise sounded great, Araby was definitely a cool name, and the whole sultry-steampunk vibe, fitting right into one of my favorite genres, was very much to my liking. I was so excited to start this. My whole reader’s brain was going yes yes yes.

Then… nope, nope, nope.

This book sort of disintegrated for me in steps, which I’ll try and outline below. I DNF’ed about halfway through, just fed up with the entire setup and sore with disappointment. Trust me, I was reluctant to give up hope with Masque of the Red Death, but I acknowledge that for me, it was a painful consumer of my time and I’d be better off using this time elsewhere.

Step One: The writing.

I wasn’t altogether enchanted with the writing style from the start, which should have been a great big red warning sign, since writing style can make or break a book for me. With so much potential wrapped up in a premise that was so beautiful already, my expectations were through the roof. I was just waiting to be thrown into a sumptuous, decaying, honest first-person voice that would send chills up my spine and keep me thinking for weeks to come.

Instead I got what’s really just your run-of-the-mill, slightly choppy first-person present-tense point of view. There was more telling than I would have liked, and Araby’s emotions felt contrived and forced. While this might have slipped by in a fast-paced sci-fi type read, the fantasy/steampunk genre – along with my expectations – required some more prose-building.

Step Two: The love triangle and the romances as a whole.

This is the typical love triangle in two ways (because why only use one cliché where you can use even more?) – bad boy versus reliable boy and poor boy versus rich boy. At best, the tension in this love triangle was weak and the chemistry was little more than instant attraction, and worse still, it was completely unnecessary – it didn’t contribute to the plot in any way. In fact, it interrupted the flow more than once while I was reading, which made getting back to the “real” storyline an annoying process.

Will is the poor, hardworking one who is so kind because he’s raising his younger siblings. These siblings – *ugh* – were really only present to endear this boy to Araby and the reader, which made any cuteness that they exhibited extremely irritating. From the outset, Araby is inexplicably attracted to Will’s handsome features despite not knowing him at all and having no basis for these feelings. Nearly all of Will’s actions are more creepy than sweet, like having her wear his shirt and taking her home “because she looks like she needs help”. Also, Araby’s first real encounter with Will made me want to throw the book across the room, a reaction that I’ll be discussing a little later.

Elliott is the rich, rebellious one who pretends to be in love with Araby and then – surprise! – actually falls in love with her for no apparent reason and with no development of their relationship whatsoever. Though I did find his “I am unstable, don’t ever trust me” dynamic interesting, it wasn’t expanded upon and seemed to be there only to increase his appeal to Araby. Also, his gestures towards her are forward and unwelcome, but she doesn’t seem to care.

What was the most saddening about this love triangle was that Araby makes no attempt to reconcile her feelings for two different boys – her attractions just switch on and off whenever it’s most convenient. When she sees Will, it’s “oh, I worship Will”, but as soon as Will is gone and Elliott’s in the room, it is the opposite way entirely. I found this nonsensical and unrealistic, especially when both boys had such minimal character and relationship development.

Step Three: Araby.

I have read few book heroines quite as infuriating as this one. Araby seems to spend all of her time either wallowing in self-pity or unquestioningly and blindly following any handsome male who comes her way. Although I was willing to be charitable towards her at first, because no one’s perfect, I started considering putting this book down as soon as the stupid decisions became a pattern.

As I mentioned above, Araby’s unfounded attraction to Will borders on hilarity. (I promise this isn’t really a spoiler, since it happens in the beginning part of the book.) Her first real encounter with Will involves passing out in a nightclub and waking up in a stranger’s (Will’s) bed next to Will. Plus, since the contagion has taken hold of all but the rich neighborhoods of the city, this bed could very well be infected. But instead of panicking about having been taken home by a boy without her knowledge, probably having contracted some kind of sickness, and possibly having been sexually assaulted while she was unconscious (that is a compromising position to wake up in, after all), Araby immediately starts to analyze how pretty the boy lying next to her is. “Oh, he is so pretty. He is so perfect. Should I touch him? No, I think he’s too perfect.” She thinks there is nothing odd or dangerous whatsoever about the situation and makes no move to defend herself or make her way back home.

Please no.

On Elliott’s side, Araby’s foolishness is equally maddening. Soon after meeting him, Araby immediately starts running errands for him, retrieving books and other materials from possibly dangerous places without really questioning why she’s doing it. The best explanation she can give herself is “oh, he’s attractive”. Later, she starts to think “I despise our leader, so I’m fighting him”, but this doesn’t seem to have a concrete justification. She joins a freaking revolution merely because she likes the boy running it.

The Result: Well, darn.

I admit my trouble with this book may have been partly due to my high expectations for it, but it does have prominent issues. I wouldn’t cross it off your to-read list entirely, but I’d still start it with some adjusted notions of its potential awesomeness. I’m still hopeful for other Poe retellings, though – hopefully I can find a great one in the near future!

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