Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review: Masque of the Red Death

Review: Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
Rating: A gorgeous, haunting novel full of gorgeous, haunting imagery of plague and death. A strong but confusing plot and magnificent world-building manage to overcome flat characters and lack of emotion.

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.

Masque of the Red Death is an atmospheric and gruesome tale set in a plague-ravaged steampunk world, overflowing with haunting images of false beauty and ruin. I loved all the trappings of this tale. For me, this book was the equivalent of a really gorgeous play with a breathtakingly beautiful set, magnificent costumes that evoke the mood, a pretty good script… and horribly cast actors.

You know the plays and movies I mean. Where you are just in awe of the spectacle and the creativity, but the actors aren't quite conveying all the right levels of emotion. They’re too stiff and not alive. So, so pretty, of course, and every now and then they manage to make your throat feel a little tight, but not often enough.

Araby, the main character, is a melancholy girl still grieving for her twin brother. She feels immensely guilty that he died instead of her, and because of that is determined, basically, to never feel true pleasure again. This suits the mood of this book and this hopeless world, but I must confess I find it very hard to connect to depressed characters. There is nothing to grab onto. In the beginning, I was all, “Well, fine, if you want to die, then why should I care if you do?” This is the wrong reaction to have to your protagonist. I mean, yes, as the story develops, she grows less disinterested and begins to care about the world and people around her. But I felt like I was reading Araby through a fog or a veil. I never felt close to her. I never felt her at all. She literally has made a vow that she will never do the things Finn, her dead twin, won’t get to. This includes kissing, sword-fighting, and smiling, apparently.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved the grimness of Masque of the Red Death. But Araby was a bit much. Every time she brought up the vow, I just kind of rolled my eyes. Enough with the emo-ness. Oftentimes her motives or feelings simply confused me, at least until the end. Once she finds things worth living for, her characters sharpens quite a bit.

There is a love triangle, but for me, it was deeply uneven. There is Elliott, older brother to Araby’s best “friend” April, who is dangerous and mysterious, and Will, who, despite his tattoos, did not seem dangerous or mysterious at all. If you can’t tell, I was far more taken with dark and complex Elliott. Will had cute little siblings, but mostly his character fell flat. But Elliott is the best character in the whole book. He’s conflicted and confusing and pretty darn swoonalicious, if you ask me. I found myself getting excited every time he was on the page. I wanted to know what the heck he was thinking and feeling and what he was going to do next. He was unpredictable, which I loved.

In both cases, the love and attraction came way too fast. I think there was a step missing in Araby’s relationships with both men, even if I far preferred Araby/Elliott. Will and Araby is pure insta-love. I didn’t get it at all. April confused me as a character as well, as I never really got her connection with Araby, but I came to enjoy her at the end.

The plot and the setting seriously help make up for my “meh” feelings on the characters. The city is in ruins, the prince is an absolutely appalling and selfish man unconcerned with the suffering around him, and religious uprisings, led by the fantatic Reverend Malcontent, are beginning to boil over. There are dark and lavish clubs filled with debauchery, tattered dresses made with elegant fabric, marshes full of crocodiles, a Gothic and gaudy palace, and the rich wear pristine china masks to keep out the contagion. The lower city is crowded with the dead and diseased. All the horses have died, so the wealthy travel by means of steam-powered carriage. Creep-tastic.

It makes me want to read the Poe story it’s based on. While I would have appreciated a bit more clarity and a slightly tighter pace, I enjoyed reading about the things that happened even as they confused me mightily. I love where it left off. I wish the rebellion plot line had been more fleshed out, at least so I could have understood it a bit better, but I have a feeling this will really come to fruition in the next book.

I’ll be reading the sequel, even if just to find out how in the blazes they’re going to fix basically the worst situation ever, and because the imagery and world-building are fantastic. The writing was stiff in places, and stuck halfway between fully Gothic Victorian and modern, but I feel like Griffin will improve. I really hope Araby improves along with her. But otherwise, Griffin's got all the ingredients she needs for a spectacular sequel.


  1. With dystopian fiction, I rarely care that much for the characters, and poorly-written ones don't faze me anywhere near as much as they do in other genres. For me, world-building and general grim-ness are the main things keeping me reading, so this sounds swell.

    Also: the Poe story was pretty ace. You should get on that.

    1. I think this may be one of those genres where I'm willing to take great world-building over great characters, but I won't straight up LOVE it unless I love the characters. This book had a lot going for it, and if you love Poe, I think you'll love this. And YES. I need to read the Poe story. I love me some Poe.

  2. Ahh, awesome review sweetie :) I kind of loved this book (A) Maybe. I hated Will. Didn't like that romance and all. I, like you, LOVED Elliott! <3 There must be more Elliott in book two. There must be. I do get why you had troubles with this book. I didn't have the same one, but I did get bored of Araby a few times. Not often, but sometimes ;p Cannot wait for the sequel, though :D Glad you mostly enjoyed this book :) <3

    1. So agree with you! Did not like Will but totally loved Elliott. Araby... I was hit or miss with her. But I will be reading the sequel. The world-building was just that good.

  3. Great review! I liked Masque of the Red Death but it wasn't one of the best I have ever read. It was paced slowly, and the characters...... kind of got on my nerves. But I did enjoy it. I will definitely be reading the sequel.

  4. Thanks for the review! The setting was so eerie and bleak and I totally agree with your comment on the characters. I felt rather depressed just reading about them... -.-

    And YES, ELLIOT! <3 I wonder if Glitter and Doom (#1.5? #2.5? GRs seems indecisive) will be in his POV? It seems to be a trend these days, like Destroy Me and Neverfall.


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