Books that are heavily influenced by classic stories are always tricky, particularly when it’s as ambitious an undertaking as a story inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe classic. I loved the lavish setting and moodiness of the original story, so I had my doubts that anything could come close to capturing its crazy vibe. But somehow Bethany Griffin has managed to create a very similarly dark, extravagant feeling in her gothic adaptation, which is a surprisingly compelling read.
Seventeen-year-old Araby Worth lives in a world devastated by plague. Haunted by the death of her twin brother Finn, she and her friend April spend their nights attending opulent club parties, trying to lose themselves in pleasure so they can forget the what’s going on around them. In this atmosphere of dissipation and discontent, she meets the reckless Elliott, the nephew of the mad Prince Prospero who controls the city, and Will, a boy who works at the Debauchery Club who is desperately trying to take care of his little brother and sister. Through her association with them, she is shaken out of her numb acceptance of the world she lives in, and learns that she just might hold the key to saving countless lives.
I fully admit that my overall liking for the book is fairly reliant upon the extravagant world that the author created, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing when it’s such an important part of adapting Poe. I was mesmerized by: the visuals of porcelain masks that protect the wealthy from the contamination which were invented by Araby’s scientist father; disease-carrying bats; zeppelins in the sky; nights of debauchery; tattered velvet dresses; the threat of death by crocodile. I also liked the central story line involving a plan to steal blueprints for the masks so they might be distributed to the poor, and the romance had enough substance to keep me interested, too.
Things that should have driven me crazy but didn’t: first person, present tense; a love triangle, mostly because it keeps you guessing for the most part and doesn’t always go the expected route; recreational drug use, because it fits in with the story; modern slang mixed in with a historical-ish style; the vow Araby takes to avoid all pleasures that Finn will never get to experience. I do wish that we’d gotten a little further along in the central plot to undermine Prince Prospero, however, as well as in Araby’s relationships with…well, everyone, since it seems as though there is a lot of buildup, and then the book ends just as things are really starting to get interesting. And I wish that the choice Araby makes towards the end was a little more meaningful. I think she’s a girl who is just discovering who she is for the first time, however, so I don’t mind that we don’t really know her all that well yet. She shows the promise of being a strong, take-action sort of heroine, and I’m hoping that we’ll see her character, as well as everyone else’s, further developed in the sequel.
I really liked Masque of the Red Death (much more than I enjoyed Nevermore, by the way) and I’m dying to see what happens next. Readers who don’t mind a slower, more literary style will like this book, and I think most Poe fans will be happy with it, too. The story pays homage to the original story but doesn’t adhere to it too slavishly, instead expanding on the world and imagining what would happen if it were a teenage girl that was caught up in the baroque madness. This strange mix of dystopian-steampunk-gothic-romance works really well here, in no small part because the author does such a beautiful job in creating a decadent, imaginative world for the characters–and us–to lose ourselves in.
This review also appears on GoodReads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
Rated 4 out of 5 stars
Inspiration Behind the Story
If you aren’t familiar with Edgar Allen Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, by the way, it’s a masterpiece in drama, tension, and symbolism. Read the story online and compare it to this one–I think it actually makes you appreciate what Bethany Griffin did even more.