Masque of the Red Death: review

March 26, 2012 2012, 4 star books, bethany griffin, dystopian/post-apocalyptic, steampunk, Wendy 61

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin, HarperTeen, Harper, Poe, YA, gothic, dystopian, steampunk

by Bethany Griffin
Ah, steampunk libertines! Who’d have thought they’d be so appealing?

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
Release Date: April 24, 2012

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. 

61 Responses to “Masque of the Red Death: review”

  1. Mariya

    Once again, Wendy, brilliant review!

    I am embarrassed to say that although I did read Poe’s original story (back when I was in high school – ages ago! lol), I don’t remember it AT ALL!

    This particular book, however, was SO GOOD and so much better than I expected. Like you, I am usually NOT a fan of love triangles, but for some crazy reason I didn’t mind it in this book. Bethany Griffin did such a fantastic job combining the genres of steampunk, gothic lit, romance, and paranormal. I really enjoyed this book and I am glad you liked it too.

  2. Flavia

    Sounds like a really good book! Thanks for the review, I’ll check it out!
    I’m not sure that I will like the love triangle, but I’ll try anyway!

  3. LeeLou

    I have been wanting to read this book for awhile. After reading your review I think I might have to bump it up higher on my to-read list!

  4. LeeLou

    I have been wanting to read this book for awhile. After reading your review I think I might have to bump it up higher on my to-read list!

  5. polaris

    i haven’t finished reading this but so far, i’m liking it!

    (i actually skipped your review and went on to see your rating. 4 out of 5 stars, i’m continuing this!)

  6. A Canadian Girl

    I love steampunk but the mixed reviews for this one made me unsure whether I wanted to read this one. The fact that you liked it makes me at least want to give it a try. It’s always interesting how some authors can make things that would normally drive you crazy, work.

    • Wendy Darling

      I hope you will give it a shot, Z–I think it comes down to whether you enjoy the author’s writing style. All of this just worked for me, what can I say! And yes, sometimes all the rules go out the window if the author does a great job with other things. :)

  7. Emily

    I have received a copy of this one from NetGalley. It’s very high up in my queue of reading material. So, I’m glad that you enjoyed it. Can’t wait to dig in!

    • Wendy Darling

      Ohh, I didn’t even realize it was on Netgalley, Emily! I’m so glad you got it. Look forward to seeing what you think. :)

  8. Heidi

    I was so excited to read your thoughts on this one as I’m a retelling junkie, and as a Poe lover, I’ve been especially excited/hesitant toward this one. I have had Nevermore on my list for some time, but haven’t read it yet due to similar hesitations–glad to hear you liked this one better! Your list of things that ‘should’ have bothered you is largely things that would/will bother me too. Add to that the 50th boy in the past several years to be named Finn. I am SO SICK OF BOYS NAMED FINN. Seriously. I’m predisposed to hate them now just because they’re in every freakin book. Okay…rant over. Breathe, Heidi, breathe.

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, I’m glad you’re going to read this, Heidi, especially to see if you’re bothered by the things that I wasn’t bothered by, hah. I actually don’t mind the name Finn, but it’s true there have been a lot of them in YA/pop culture lately! Fingers crossed you enjoy this one despite that. :)

  9. KM

    So glad you enjoyed this, Wendy!! My favorite part was the setting, as well. It’s haunting and beautiful in a terrifying sort of way. But I agree that Araby’s relationships with people felt a little underdeveloped. But maybe those will get better in later books. I’m looking forward to reading more about Elliot. He really intrigued me!

    • Wendy Darling

      Well, your review was the one that really got me excited to read it, KM, so I’m glad we agree on this one! It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with both boys.

  10. Savannah Valdez

    YAY! Glad to hear you like this book! the world building was awesome. It loved the who mask part of the book and the downfall of the city. Thanks for sharing Wendy :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Ooo, I’m glad you enjoyed this too, Savannah! Yay. :) I hope we get more rebellion in the next book, the early rumblings of that were really interesting in this one.

  11. Heidi@Rainy Day Ramblings

    Yeah Wendy! I am so glad you liked this one! I am DYING to get my hands on this, should hopefully have an ARC soon! The cover is gorgeous and then add in plague, masks, debauchery…sounds promising, to say the least! Plus flavor of Poe!? Wow! Sign me up!

    • Wendy Darling

      The delicious Ds. :) I reread the Poe before I read the book, and I must say I think they complement each other nicely. I’m curious what someone who reads this book before reading the original would think.

  12. Melliane

    Nice! I was curious about this one, because well, I love the cover lol. So thanks for the great review, so nice to learn more about it, now I’m also curious to read it.

    • Wendy Darling

      Hah, it IS a gorgeous cover. :) I’m irresistibly drawn to beautiful cover art all the time. Hope you enjoy when you get around to reading it, Melliane.

  13. Sam

    A love triangle that didn’t drive you crazy? Interesting! :) Brilliant review, Wendy. I am incredibly eager to get my hands on this book as it sounds amazing. I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed it!

    • Wendy Darling

      I’m eager for you to get your hands on it too, Sam. :) I should have probably noted that I don’t mind love triangles if they’re done well, but a lot of the ones in PNR seem forced. But not so here! I think you’ll like this one.

  14. Missie, The Unread Reader

    Agh! Why is first person, present tense so irritating? It’s easier for me to accept in contemporary reads, but I’ll trust that if you weren’t bothered by it, then I won’t be either. Still, there are those other issues that would normally drive me crazy, and I think based on how you described the conclusion of this one, it would frustrate me a bit because I’d probably want more, and I’m not a patient person. LOL

    Still, I love Poe, and adaptions of his work are not easily pulled off, and it sounds like this author really got it right.

    • Wendy Darling

      Yeah, I’d normally be irritated with that too, Missie, but for some reason it didn’t bother me here. The good news is, there are only two books in this series, apparently! So we won’t have to wait quite as long to have things neatly wrapped up for us. :)

  15. starryeyedjen

    “The threat of death by crocodile”…if there were ever a way to sell me on a book, this would be it. :) I was already excited to read this one, especially after your GR updates, but now I’m practically frothing at the mouth. One month. I can wait a month, right?

    Glad you loved this one, Wendy!

    • Wendy Darling

      Hah hah, well…Wendy has to warn her friends about crocodile dangers. :D I know you can do it, Jeannette! It’s worth the wait.

  16. Jasprit

    I have been in such a flap with books the last few weeks that I miss all the good ones! There have been some real positive reviews for this one, so I can’t wait to read it. And who can forget this book with that gorgeous cover!

    • Wendy Darling

      Oh, I think you’d like this, Jasprit! The cover really is gorgeous, isn’t it? The ARC has a matte textured quality that is very nice, so hopefully the finished copy is pretty, too.

  17. Amy

    So glad you enjoyed this book. I am almost halfway through it and I think it’ fantastic so far. Fab review!!

  18. Lexie

    Lovely, lovely review. I seriously cannot wait for this one. It’s one of my most-awaited reads of 2012; between it being based off of Poe, the awesome premise, and the ridiculously gorgeous cover, I figured it had to be pretty fantastic. I’m really glad you liked it. If you liked it more than Nevermore, then I may absolutely adore this one. :P I suppose we’ll see. I’m a fan of slower stories if they’re well done, so I think this’ll be my kind of book.

    • Wendy Darling

      Aw, thanks Lexie! The cover IS gorgeous, isn’t it? I was so busy talking about the book, I didn’t even remember to talk about that, hah.

      Since you love both Poe and Nevermore, I’m pretty sure you’ll love this one. I hope so, anyway!

  19. Jenny

    I agree! I thought for sure I was going to be irritated with the love triangle when it started to form, but she kept everything fairly unpredictable and I never felt like I was drowning in angst which is a complete win. I really enjoyed the different feel to this one, and after that action packed ending I can’t wait for more! Beautiful review Wendy!

    • Wendy Darling

      Yay, I’m glad you enjoyed this too, Jenny! I was surprised by how much I liked it, and how things that would normally bother me didn’t irritate me at all.

      I’m really happy there’s (apparently) just one more book. That way we only have to wait a year for the conclusion to the story, which I can’t wait to read.

  20. Andrea @The Bookish Babes

    I’m planning to read this soon. I was mildly excited, but now I’m crazy excited to read Masque. I had no idea it has Steampunk in it. Love! This is the first in-depth review of read of Masque. Wonderful job!

    • Wendy Darling

      It’s light on the steampunk, but I don’t think you’ll mind that too much, Andrea–there’s plenty of other stuff there to keep you busy! I’m so glad you’re going to read this soon so we can compare notes. :D

  21. Mimi Valentine

    The entire time I was reading your review, I kept thanking the gods that I have a copy waiting for me on my shelf LOL! x) Wen, I don’t think this book could sound more hauntingly becautiful, and in my bookish ways, that’s the best kind of beautiful there is! <3 My super-secret is that I haven't read a single thing by Edgar Allan Poe before, but I've been a fangirl of his ever since I read Nevermore! So hearing that you liked this one even more than Nevermore has me extra intrigued!

    Amazing and beautiful and stunning review, Wendy! But I have long since learned not to expect anything less from you :) <3

    • Wendy Darling

      Well, I thank the gods you have a copy on your shelf too! I can’t wait to read your review of this one, Mimi, I’m pretty sure you will adore it. :) Thanks so much for stopping by, it always makes me smile to see your little heart/book avatar.

  22. Bookworm1858

    I am getting a copy of this and I was starting to get nervous that I would build it up too much. However it really sounds like something I’ll enjoy especially once I brush up on the Poe story again to prepare!

    • Wendy Darling

      Awesome, I’m so glad you have a copy already Bookworm! I hope it lives up to your expectations. I liked that the author did her own thing with the story, and just sort of borrows the mood and the barest bones of the Poe classic.

    • Wendy Darling

      If you’re a fan of Poe, I’m pretty sure you’ll like this, Julie. :) I think most readers who like paranormal romances will have a good time with it.

  23. Natalie (Mindful Musings)

    EDGAR ALLAN POE!!! Sorry. Had to get that out of my system, lol. Seriously, if Poe was alive today, I would probably be one of his biggest fangirls. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of this one, so I’m uber excited to read it, especially after hearing how you enjoyed it!

  24. Rachel @ Unforgettable Books

    Formidable review Wendy! I don’t mind love triangles when the answer is not obvious or if I like the characters. Thanks for describing what Steampunk really is, i have been confused for awhile what that genre was about. I like some gothic’s works; especially The tell-tale heart short story by Poe.

    Thanks for an exciting review!
    Rachel @ Unforgettable Books

    • Wendy Darling

      This is a pretty unusual love triangle, Rachel–there are intriguing things about both boys, but they’re both clearly hiding things from Araby, too.

      I think “steampunk” tends to be more of a style thing when it comes to YA these days, and certainly this book is light on the steampunk and dystopian elements. But I didn’t mind it so much here, since there was a lot going on and enough meat in other places that I could accept that those were just the setting, if you know what I mean. Thanks for stopping by!

  25. Sarah (saz101)

    Oh, Wendy, you have me seriously intrigued. OK, truly, you had me sold with ‘steampunk libertines’, I swear :D

    This was kind of a take-it-or-leave-it for me before reading your review, but I love how you’ve described loving the lavish setting, and creepy gothic/steampunk depravity and… wow. Seriously. This is going on my TBR. FABULOUS review. THANK YOU! ♥

    • Wendy Darling

      Hee hee, thanks Sarah! I’m glad the review has convinced you to give the book a chance. I look forward to comparing notes when you get a chance to read it. :)

  26. ashelynn hetland

    ooh, great review! I’ve been dying to read Masque, but I think this is the first review that tells me more about what’s inside. Then again, I haven’t gone hunting for reviews, so whatever. :)

    I love literary books, and Poe, so this one is definitely going on my wishlist now. Thanks, Wendy!

    • Wendy Darling

      Thanks Ashelynn! I think you’ll enjoy this one, based on other books I know you’ve loved in the past. Can’t wait to see what you think of it. :)

  27. Aneeqah

    That’s great that you liked this book! I was kind of debating whether or not to add this book to my TBR, but after hearing what you’ve said, I definitely will. I don’t really mind some slower, good world-building [at least, not all the time!]. Thank you for the review. =)

    -Aneeqah @ The Brain Lair

    • Wendy Darling

      I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Aneeqah! It has a very dark, romantic feel to it, almost like PNR, except that it has a bit more substance to it than most YA in that genre. At least in my opinion. :)

  28. elena

    You really piqued my interest with this book, Wendy! Books that are based on classics ARE tricky and I’m glad this one did it well. I think it’s amazing when books can create a proper homage while still being their own. The descriptions sound so creepy cool. I’ll make sure to read the original story beforehand. :)

    • Wendy Darling

      Yay, I’m glad you’ll give it a chance, Elena! For some reason this all just worked for me, although I’m not sure it will work for everyone. “Creepy cool” is a good way to describe it.