Author: Bethany Griffin
Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Find On: Goodreads | Amazon UK | The Book Depository
Masque of the Red Death draws out the dark themes of Edgar Allan Poe’s original work and moulds it into something distinctive, gothic, and strangely mesmerising. In this bleak world, the Weeping Sickness silently storms the streets, and the so-called ‘corpse collectors’ trail along behind it. Araby, our protagonist, is among those with status due to her father’s role in formulating the porcelain masks that protect wearers from the contagion. The need to survive has withered the quality of life, leaving the poor and maskless helpless to the effects of the sickness while the rich and elite, including young Araby and friend April, lose themselves in drug use and sensual indulgence at places such as the ‘Debauchery Club’.
Although the premise isn’t entirely unique – deadly diseases of some form posing a risk to human survival is an ever-present idea in fiction – Bethany Griffin does a commendable job with this particular story and managed to draw me in with eagerness and curiosity, despite my earlier misgivings. While it may not have been quite as compelling as I had hoped, the book overall proved to be a mostly engaging and worthwhile read.
Most, if not all, of the slight issues I had with this book lay with the lacklustre start. The light world-building was easily appreciated, and the characters, although a little distant, were not too difficult to invest some interest in. The problem lay with the fact it was nothing astonishing – I didn’t feel as though I would have had any trouble putting the book away for a while and flicking through something else instead. Perhaps that is more of a personal reaction to the book. After having finished a 5 star read and (although I shouldn’t have) having indulged in a couple of chapters of a Melina Marchetta book, I suppose the writing paled in comparison. Nevertheless, a small handful of chapters later, it became easier to lose myself into Bethany Griffin’s world and I did so willingly.
Once the story set sail for me, I began to appreciate the finer details of the plot. It isn’t a particularly complex one, but it remains engaging through to the end, particularly during the climactic scenes. The ending itself was a little disappointing purely for the fact I would have enjoyed a further few chapters rather than to have been expecting more after the extravagant build-up, but it does ensure that I will be back to read the sequel.
Though I suppose the love-triangle is another reason I will be back for more. Don’t misunderstand that to mean I enjoyed the love triangle (perhaps I did a little, but I will never admit it) – I am eager to uncover more about both Elliot and Will so I can finally make up my mind. By that I mean I want to have more of a reason to pick Elliot over Will or Will over Elliot. I know several readers have embraced the love triangle with open arms – two complex characters to fall for and, for a change, it isn’t easy to latch onto one ignore the other – but I prefer knowing who my loyalties lie with. I will applaud the author for making it incredibly difficult to decide, even despite that little twist near the end. It is definitely an intriguing situation she has concocted for us and I am more than eager to see how it plays out.
Despite the slow start to this book, it turned out to be a deeply atmospheric read and the story line grew more appealing as the book progressed. The dark tone and the layered characters added to the story and I am looking forward to more of that in the sequel.
Rating: 3.5 stars