Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Format: Hardcover, 319 pages
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.
For this one I have to go back to my old review format because I have a lot to say about it, even though I find it difficult to really structure my thougths.
This review is based on a copy I bought myself.
Review (no spoilers):
Set in a city plagued by disease against the backdrop of a Victorianesque society both destroyed and saved by science, Masque of the Red Death explores the deeds humans are capable of in the midst of despair. The story unfolds at a measured pace in what I can only call gorgeous, atmospheric prose and follows the journey of Araby as she struggles to find something worth living and fighting for in a place where everyone has a secret agenda and she herself is a valuable pawn.
Araby is not your typical heroine. She is privileged because her father is the scientist who invented the masks that allow those who have enough money to buy them to walk around outside without catching the incurable disease that poisons the very air. However, she is also weighed down by guilt, seeking oblivion in drugs and alcohol at the Debauchery club with her friend April. Araby has been very lonely and self-destructive since her twin brother, Finn, died of the plague and her parents show little interest in her.
Blaming herself for Finn’s death, she has taken a vow not to let herself experience anything that he won’t get around to – no kissing, no sex, no other outstanding experiences. She is just drifting by – apart from the short moment upon entering the club, when she is tested for infection by Will, the dark, tattooed and mysterious club employee. Will is off limits – not just because of Araby’s vow, but because he is poor and lives in the Lower City.
I empathized with Araby and enjoyed watching her grow and become a stronger, better person, and I simply adored Will. He cares about her and risks his own life more than once to help her without asking for anything in return. Through him, Araby is ripped from her lethargy as she tries to aid him and his siblings in return. For the city is close to an upheaval against the reign of Prince Prospero, who keeps a tight leash on the mask production and distribution while the streets are literally lined with corpses. Going out after dark without an escort of armed guardians is unthinkable as the poor’s’ discontent reaches new heights.
Enter Elliot, April’s brother. He shows some kind of interest in Araby, yet determining whether he truly likes her or simply needs her for his own plans because of her position as the scientist’s daughter is unclear. I never really took to him, to be honest, nor did I trust him. But when April disappears and Elliott asks Araby for help in retrieving her, how can she refuse? How much is she willing to sacrifice for the good of the city or the lives of her remaining family? When a new plague, the Red Death, starts to spread through the city streets, mayhem and chaos ensue…
The pace of the novel might be slow for some readers, but I enjoyed the build-up. I could easily get lost in the lush prose and the realistic and sometimes gruesome descriptions of a world where death is ubiquitous and hope nearly extinct. The world-building was excellent and Bethany Griffin lets her readers piece together many things on their own – I liked the mystery in that, and there were twists I never would have seen coming. I was also a sucker for the bittersweet mixture of budding romance, betrayal, and guilt. This is a dark read, but one that will stay on your mind for a long time!
Spoilery personal thoughts:
I was very impressed by the world-building, as I have already said. Just imagine growing up in a world where no one wants to go outside! Imagine being a kid but never going to the park, never playing ball with your friends because any small accident could crack your mask and damn you – if you are lucky enough to have parents who can afford a mask for you. Without one, kids cannot even enter school or otherwise be around people for fear of infection. Infected people can be killed on sight, and the corpse collectors are always busy. Not wearing a mask is unthinkable for Araby and other rich people. Many of them never leave their apartments and have lower-class servants run all their errands. I would go crazy if I had to hole up inside like this, without ever even being able to air the rooms! How do you live when death and disease are ever-present?
Another thing I adored was that even in the midst of all this death, there were glimpses of hope – people still read poetry and stories, there are even some who still go to the university to hold unofficial courses. There is something alike to street art. There are people who do selfless things. The ambivalence of science was also something I enjoyed. And the changes in fashion and behavior brought on by the disease! The dress code became way more revealing – it is important to show that your legs are free of blisters or other signs of the illness. Long skirts are suspicious. Women gained the permission to enter the clubs where the wealthy try to forget about the terrible situation for a few hours every night. Though I must admit that I would have liked to see more of what goes on at the Debauchery club… the story tends to black out after Araby drugs herself and set back in when she regains consciousness. Apart from that, the threatening atmosphere in some parts of the club was very well rendered!
I could go on forever about Will, and how I like him so much better than Elliott despite what he did near the end. Elliott is very messed up, but that’s no excuse for how badly he treats Araby and pushes her into doing things for him that are dangerous to her and her father while keeping most of the important information from her. I could ramble on forever about this, about Prospero, I could go into how Masque picks up on elements of Poe’s story, but I’ve been rambling on for too long already. Let’s just leave it at the fact that I absolutely loved this book and can’t wait for the sequel! Oh, and the cover is simply perfect and suits the novel well.
I’m sure I missed many aspects of the story I enjoyed or wanted to touch on, but I’m trying (and apparently failing) to make my reviews less lengthy. If you’ve read the book and remember something that struck you but that I didn’t bring up, feel free to comment and initiate a discussion! What are you people’s thoughts on the book? Did you enjoy it? Was there something that annoyed you? Do you prefer Will or Elliott? Tell me in the comments :)