It's 2:13am and I've just finished The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin. I could have waited until a more reasonable time to shove my thoughts at a review post, but I stayed up to finish reading it and now I have a desperate, urgent need to talk about it. Why? Because it's AMAZING.
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.
The Masque of the Red Death is a YA re-imagining of Edgar Allen Poe's short story of the same name. It's out of copyright, so you can read it online for free here. Still, as Bethany Griffin says on her website, you won't find much of the original story in this book - it's a re-imagining not a retelling, so only a few aspects are present, although the next book may feature a little more.
While I admit that it took me a few chapters to get into this book, by the end I was absolutely in love. It's easily the best YA novel I've read all year. It takes the simple concept of a city ravished by plague and turns it into a suspenseful and exciting adventure. Each new plot revelation had me gasping with shock and disbelief, as the story never stops twisting and turning in delicious new ways.
I received an ARC from Orion Publishers to review, so my cover doesn't look like the one above. Instead it's the much, much creepier version on the right. I'm not sure whether it was a result of the cover or my own imagination, but I ended up picturing the plague masks as looking like that one. My God that was creepy. I really think they should have used that image on the final product as it seriously gave me the heebie jeebies.
There are a few tiny faults with The Masque of the Red Death, but they're easily overlooked in the light of the sheer wonderfulness of the rest of them. Firstly, Araby's vow to never experience the things her brother never did (like romance) doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. I mean, I understand that the author probably wanted to add a slight twist to the romantic sub-plot but Araby casts this aside so easily when she chooses to that it seems kind of pointless anyway.
Speaking of the romantic sub-plots, that's my second criticism. While I don't actually have a problem with the inclusion of the romance (which is rare for me, but it is pretty much necessary for the plot here), I do think it could have been dealt with better. Both Elliott and Will fall in love with Araby for no apparent reason and after an incredibly short period of time. I like them both, more or less, but I'd have preferred a more gradual development.
Lastly, I don't think I really believed in Araby's drug problem. She goes from being a sensible, rational human being to quickly mentioning how much she wants the syringe and then she's absolutely fine again. It just didn't seem necessary and it was dealt with fairly clunkily, if that's a word.
I know that's three paragraphs of criticism, but just remember that they are tiny faults. Her vow irritated me quite a bit as I read through the book and that's what prevented me from giving this the full five stars, but the remainder of the novel more than overshadows my little nitpicks.
This book is amazing. It's definitely a YA novel but the darkness, occasional violence and definite creepiness mean that it's concretely aimed at the older end of the spectrum. I really wouldn't recommend this for younger readers. I just can't emphasise enough how brilliant this book is though - I absolutely cannot wait for the second book to be released. If the atmosphere and tension are anything like they are in Masque of the Red Death, it will be the book of the year for me.
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