Masque of the Red Death, by Bethany Griffin [Red Death Saga #1]

  • Title: Masque of the Red Death
  • Author: Bethany Griffin
  • Publisher: Indigo
  • Publication date: 24th April 2012
  • Rating: ★★★★

cover-masque250_f2I’d firstly like to thank Gollancz for their “Gollancz Geeks” scheme, through which I received this book. This book was free and kindly given to me for the purposes of review. Which is pretty cool.

Masque of the Red Death is based on a work by Edgar Allen Poe. I found this out by reading reviews on Goodreads. I’ll put my hand up eagerly and state that I have not read the “original”. Certainly, I have read few “classic” books at all. However, this didn’t hinder my enjoyment of the book – in fact, it might have helped the story to appear farther detached from its lofty origins, since I didn’t know it had any.

This is a book that six months ago I would not have picked up. It has a pretty, moody girl on the cover and is very feminine. I would have been embarrassed by purchasing this book, since it looks so very girly. Welp; sod it. So I’m a guy who reads YA fantasy, much of which has deliciously pretty covers and ornate font. So what? I like books; I read books.

As it happens, this is a very effeminate book – not by virtue of its cover art, but the glamorous nature of the setting and the constant theme of costuming. I liked this: it felt like reading something very theatrical indeed and it drew me in much in the way watching players move around in their powder and paint as the curtain is drawn away, showing the stage beyond. It was exquisite to read.

Araby Worth has little to live for: her nights spent in the glamorous darkness of the Debauchery Club are all she cleaves to now. Since the plague; since his death. Araby wanders through her own life, a pale ghost next to a single best friend whom believes she saved her life. And who knows: maybe Araby would have jumped?

The world that Araby knows is in ruins following a devastating plague – The Weeping Sickness – that appeared and ravaged the populace. Now masks are worn for fear of the poisonous air and on her nightly visits to the club, Araby dully hopes that the carriage in which April coveys her to the one place she can lose her mind for a few hours will not cross the path of the corpse collectors, their carts piled high with the bodies of those who have succumbed to the sickness.

In a world where masks are commonplace and Araby lives burdened by loss and sorrow, the Debauchery Club offers a few hours of false happiness and the chance at oblivion, the silver syringe that paints the world in new colours until the the desolation returns. But when her friend goes missing and she begins to forge a friendship with a member of the security staff, Araby begins to rethink her life. Then when Araby becomes entangled in the extreme plans to force rebellion and revolution upon the broken city, she no longer knows which way to turn: in every direction lies betrayal and deceit and Araby isn’t sure what she lives for is enough to muster the energy needed to survive the coming storm.

Suddenly Araby realises that her world is a complicated one, built upon secrets, murder and betrayal. Now torn between two dazzling new boys and desperately searching for her friend, Araby could never imagine that her world is about to tear apart and that she will be at its centre, clutching the seams. Rich, dark and unusually vibrant, Masque of the Red Death is hopelessly addictive and possessed of a confident plot  that takes its slow time in order to sprint towards an ending that leaves everyone, including Araby, breathless.

A beautifully sad setting and voice, despite the constant moping and misguided attitude towards her grief. Sometimes Araby is a little too much: she is too sad, too indifferent, too unwilling to move on. It’s not that this is a problem within the bounds of her character, rather that it is reiterated a little too much – so much so that any sympathy garnered is essentially lost. Until Araby’s strength shows through she is too much the wilting flower.

There’s a strength to Araby that some readers might not see: she’s definitely an emotional, slow and depressed character and this doesn’t make her very instantly likeable. She’s hard work. But, cleverly, it’s not Araby that draws you into the book: it’s the setting, the Debauchery Club, the grimy streets and lonely towers. Then, when Araby is ready, her strength blossoms and shows through. I would have liked to have seen hints of that strength before she found herself needed by the course and flow of the plot, so then it wouldn’t have seemed like such a convenient and sudden change. Yet, Araby is a slow character, not to be rushed.

Surprisingly well-paced and complex, Masque of the Red Death knows exactly what it is doing and does everything right. It is at once gorgeous, horrible and totally compelling. This is a YA fantasy with elements of romance, horror and secrecy, all of which are executed with the soft subtlety of a silk opera glove.

A recommended read for anyone seeking something different.


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