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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Review: The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

Atmospheric and lyrical dystopian steampunk YA

This is a book to savour, if you can bear to hold yourself back enough. Bethany Griffin's writing is tight and often beautiful; rich and evocative without self-indulgence. Araby's plague-infested world is easy to picture and enter into, despite its otherworldliness.

This plague-infested world, in which the rich are free to move around thanks to anonymising porcelain masks, was inspired by Edgar Allen Poe's short story of the same name. In Poe's tale, short enough to be effectively just a couple of scenes, the Prince has locked himself and all the nobles away to dance and indulge themselves while the plague ravages those outside the palace walls. This image of decadence amongst the chaos is central to this new tale, which develops the core idea into a complex plot asking questions about morality, identity, progress and risk.

Araby's place in this world is as one of the privileged - in the first chapter we see her attending the Debauchery Club with her friend April - and yet, as she is aware, she has not always been wealthy and has far more comprehension of the big picture than those she parties with. Araby's consciousness is as easy to enter as her world, thanks to the first-person-present-tense narration, which lends immediacy to the story. We get a clear view of Araby as somewhat detached from the world around her, at least at the novel's opening, which makes her a great observer. Her past is also intriguing, drip-fed through the book at just the right pace to keep us guessing and reward reading.

The plot is twisty and involved, and sets us up well for the next book. Generally, I prefer series books which have a clear plot arc (which is resolved) in each volume, so each is like a complete episode of the story, with a kind of over-arching story to continue through the series, but the writing here was so gorgeous that I forgave it pretty quickly. I will certainly be looking out for book two, and I would definitely recommend this gorgeous, involving read to YA readers, particularly those who enjoy steampunk, dystopian, historical and/or romance novels!

From the back cover:

Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population. And those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles to pieces around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery make-up . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club. And Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither boy is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find something not just to live for, but to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

Published August 2012 by Indigo
My grateful thanks go to the publisher for sending a review copy
Check out Masque of the Red Death at Amazon UK

1 comment:

  1. With an intense ending and no clear-cut future for Araby, I'm dying for more of her story! Masque of the Red Death is a stunning, seductive and incredible novel! I HIGHLY recommend it!
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