MASQUE OF THE RED DEATHBethany Griffin
Paranormal Young Adult
Available April 24th
Received from publisher for review
THE STORY (from Goodreads)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.
MY THOUGHTSDarkly atmospheric, Masque of the Red Death beckons us into its dichotomous world with the crook of a diseased finger, delighting us with technological advancements beyond those of our reality while simultaneously horrifying us with the deterioration of human health and quality of life. One page paints pictures of sumptuous debauchery for those who can afford it, with steam carriages for transport and needles full of liquid oblivion to escape the gruesome deaths of those unfortunate enough to contract the Weeping Sickness, while the next details the dirt, grime, and disease crippling the city one sore-ridden body at a time. We can almost feel the disease itself settle on our bodies with a tangible weight, our fingers itching to rub our skin red to alleviate the psychosomatic tingles as we follow Araby down from the highest perch above the city into the gutters themselves, discovering along the way that sickness isn’t only physical, and those suffering from it the most are often hiding behind wealth and privilege.
Araby is an interesting young woman, someone with status thanks to the masks her father invented that filter the air the wearer breathes so that no contagion can get through, but yet she isn’t overly proud of her elevated place in what remains of society. She’s similar to the porcelain mask she wears every day in so many ways–a hard shell that functions as it's supposed to but hides anything real behind a cool, smooth exterior. An honorable promise made to her late brother Finn has debilitated her, making her into someone who is alive but not truly living, and someone who wears her survivor’s guilt as armor plating to keep any happiness from finding its way in. Luckily for us, her sense of responsibility over Finn’s death, while heavy at times, isn’t all-consuming, and we’re able to catch glimpses of the real Araby when she every so often allows Will to create a chink in her armor.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this story is with regard to Will and Elliott, two young men with varying levels of interest in Araby. The synopsis has us believing we’ll find ourselves in the middle of a love triangle, and while that is partly true, the dynamics of their individual relationships are so deliciously fascinating that we can’t quite work up an appropriate level of irritation over a commonly used young adult fiction plot device. Ms. Griffin shows a true talent for creating both physical and emotional masks in this tale, with the physical obscuring facial features and making it difficult for Araby (and us) to decipher intent and sincerity, but more intriguing are the various emotional masks each boy dons. We think we have things figured out, confident in our knowledge of which boy is better suited to Araby, but we soon find ourselves embroiled in a shell game–masks sliding on and off the boys’ faces so quickly we can barely keep track of the one we think is the real one, and all the while we are completely absorbed by Ms. Griffin’s sleight of hand and the web of deception it creates.
Due to the aforementioned emotional masks, we don’t quite get to know any of the characters as well as we might like in this first installment, but we certainly know enough about them and the gritty, steampunk world to find ourselves drawn in and invested in the story’s outcome. While there is no jaw-dropping, hair-pulling cliffhanger, things are left unresolved and quite literally up in the air as a new and more ghastly plague known as the Red Death begins its gruesome attack on an already frightfully thin human population. Based on the conclusion of this first installment, this series promises to get darker and more complex as it goes, and I for one will be counting the days until I’m able to again try my hand at deciphering Ms. Griffin’s deliciously wicked games of duplicity and betrayal.