Author: Bethany Griffin
Rating: 2.5/5 Stars
Masque of the Red Death is exactly that – a mask. From the outside, it looks beautiful. Its cover is gorgeous, its synopsis is unique, and even by reading a brief preview of this novel, the reader is immediately sucked into this atmospheric setting. However, when you look behind the mask, dig deeper, read further on, and discover the characters that hide behind this mask of beauty and originality, you are met with a formulaic plot, un-dynamic characters, a typical love triangle, and an overall lack of focus. In my opinion, Masque of the Red Death was a novel that had a lot of potential and is definitely a story I wouldn’t mind reading again, but only if it was written differently with a few major changes that could truly transform it into a unique work of dystopian fiction.
In the futuristic world where Araby lives, a dangerous disease plagues the nation and causes the population to dwindle every day. Araby has lost her own twin brother Finn to this deadly plague and she and her friend April immerse themselves in clubs, struggling to forget the danger that surrounds them. In the midst of this chaos, she meets the enigmatic Elliot, brother to April and nephew of Prince Prospero who controls the city and Will, a handsome young man who works at the Debauchery Club and struggles to take care of his younger siblings. The day Araby meets these two, she slowly begins to emerge from the numb stupor her life has been in and begins to realize the power she holds to change the world and save an immeasurable number of lives.
I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but I was unable to see what it was about this novel that captured everyone’s attention. I have yet to come across many reviewers who didn’t enjoy this novel, but I unfortunately fall into the minority. Although I loved the atmospheric setting, creative dystopian outlook, and allusions to Edgar Allen Poe’s own short story that were very much prevalent throughout this novel, it’s ultimate downfall lay in the characters themselves.
I tend to love broken characters and Araby was no exception – she lost her twin brother to the plague that her father had ironically found the solution to, she struggled with survivor’s guilt from day to day, and she even took a vow to never experience anything in life that he didn’t experience either. Now, although I found Araby’s vow to be extremely strange, I didn’t have any major qualms with her until she met Will and Elliot. It seems that men bring out the silliest, stupidest, and ultimately the worst traits in female protagonists. Araby kisses both Elliot and Will throughout the course of the novel and never feels any guilt for it. Her vow, which had been emphasized very greatly in the beginning of the novel, simply disappeared and seemed not to matter during this defining moment in her life.
Araby’s vow aside, I also found that she simply threw herself headfirst into participating in Elliot’s political scheme for no reason at all. As far as the reader knows, Elliot is a complete strange whom Araby has only heard about from her best friend April; yet, she trusts him blindly and even betrays her parents for his sake. Thus, not only was I greatly confused by these actions, I slowly winded up hating Araby. I was expecting to see some type of momentous character growth that occurs throughout the course of the novel and changes her outlook on life, and although Araby grew, it was because of the presence of Will and Elliot. In my opinion, this book would have been much stronger if Araby had faced her inner struggles and overcome them through her own sheer will. Instead, she ended up being like every other unoriginal female protagonist to grace young adult fiction over the past few years.
Speaking of unoriginality, there is – you guessed it – a love triangle in this novel. For me, I found the biggest flaw in this love triangle was the fact that the author was unable to inspire in me any feeling towards her two male protagonists. In fact, that was an underlying current throughout the novel. Stories that cannot inspire any type of emotional investment from me are automatically discarded from my shelves, and this was no exception. Furthermore, I found myself to be jarred by the true genre of this novel. It had steampunk elements, but not enough. It was a creative dystopian take, but that was overshadowed by lousy characterization. It was a unique re-take on Poe’s story, but at the same time it had its marked differences that led to my dislike of it.
All in all, Masque of the Red Death is one book I’d recommend skipping. It doesn’t seem to have any specific faults to it, but its plot has been done before, its characters offer nothing original, and its unique realm is simply not enough to carry this story forward. That being said, many readers have fallen in love with this novel, so I’d recommend giving it a try yourself. However, for me, Nevermore was a novel that truly managed to capture the essence of Poe’s writing and Masque of the Red Death simply failed to live up to Poe’s famous legacy.