Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Posted June 16, 2020 by Amber in Reviews / 2 Comments

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Masque of the Red Death

Masque of the Red Death

by Bethany Griffin

Publisher: Greenwillow Books on April 24, 2012
Genre: Dystopia, Romance, Science Fiction, Steampunk
Target Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: ★★½

Check out this book on Goodreads

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’ve got some mixed feelings about Masque of the Red Death.  On the one hand, it’s this beautiful, decaying steampunk world. This is a retelling, as you may have guessed, of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” short story.  It’s takes this devastating contagion and casts a spotlight on the masked faces of the selfish upper class dancing while the city burns, essentially.

But I think… I think I wanted this book to be something it wasn’t, which resulted in my explaining away a lot of it.  Trying to make excuses.  Trying to make it a better book than it was.

More than anything, I think Masque of the Red Death spent too much time telling me about the world  Telling me Araby’s past.  Telling me how she felt about Will or Elliott.  This type of writing creates a bland palate, rather than richly painting a world that the reader can fall into.  The richness of this plague-ridden steampunk work?  There’s a lot of blank imagery I filled in with my own imagination.  Even as we are told that there are mutant bats and the city is crumbling, we aren’t really shown the city.

Part of this is because we spend so much time in Araby’s thoughts.  She’s not allowed to develop as a character and make a mark on the story, because she is constantly being held up as a resource to one of the other characters.  Araby is less Araby and more… Finn’s sister.  April’s friend.  Elliott’s resource.  Will’s provider.  Her father’s daughter.  Never is she left to develop herself and show what she wants or she feels, because Araby’s asides are caught in one of the flattest love triangles I’ve ever seen, and in memories of her family.

I’m not sure how best to address this greyscale presentation of the story.  On one hand, things moved along just fine, but on the other hand… I kept asking myself, “Why?”  Why did Elliott care about her, why was it so easy for her to do things.  Why did people keep saving this otherwise unremarkable girl.  Araby just… didn’t fit in this world.  As a protagonist, she wasn’t very interesting, because she very rarely shared any opinions or passion.

While the trajectory of the story was fairly easy to guess, so little is revealed about it.  It’s relatively cliche, although I wasn’t quite expecting the evolution of the Red Death itself.  I felt like a lot more could have been developed to show the grotesquery of the world and that Araby herself could have reached for more information or to put things into motion.  lot of time was spent on Finn, the deceased twin who ultimately had no part to play in the story outside the impression he left on Araby and her parents.  And while grief and mourning is important, his use never felt like that… just an obstacle to the love story.  Ultimately, he ended up being an obstacle to the story in general, because he stole so much screen time for so little reward.

As a whole, Masque of the Red Death was an interesting mood read.  There’s a volcano of potential waiting to erupt, edges of a story not quite refined enough to capture the reader.  I love that this is a Poe retelling and I would read other ones like it, but not with any sense of urgency.  It’s a good quick, casual read, but nothing to get overly excited about.  One of those books you read, are fascinated by a few pretty passages, and then forget.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★ 1/2
Plot: ★★★
Characters: ★ 1/2
Writing: ★★
Pacing: ★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★

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Masque of the Red Death Will be Donated

Honestly, the mood reader in me wants to keep it.

I like the idea of the world and the plague and of three warring revolutions tearing itself apart.  But there was not enough development to make this a truly great book.  Not enough magic.  I would probably pick it up to read it again and regret it because I remember being enchanted (my memory is a tricky, manipulative thing) and in rereading found it dull.

I shall save myself the pain, pluck it from my collection, and add it to the ever growing pile of books-I-will-donate-when-this-pandemic-is-over.

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Have you come across other Edgar Allan Poe retellings?  I have such a soft spot for Poe, but retellings seem few and far between.  I know Bethany Griffin did another one on the “Fall of the House of Usher” but otherwise… if you guys have recs, I’d love to know.  Drop them in the comments!

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2 responses to “Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

  1. Leah

    I read this book back in the day and yes, the book did feel like it was trying to be something it wasn’t. To me, it was trying to be very edgy when it was more melodramatic.

    • Amber

      The melodrama was strong with this one… but she never quite committed to it. Or anything. I had such hopes. Oh well – onward and upward!