Masque of the Red DeathÂ is an interesting take on the dystopia/futuristic trend. It’s got all the classic elements: plague, dictator, rebellion and violence, and a haunted heroine at the middle of it all with two men vying for her love. The twist here is that the book is based on Edgar Allen Poe’s short story with the same name, and thus the story is shaped by this Gothic horror in ways that no other dystopias are. Dark and gruesome, Masque of the Red DeathÂ takes you into the bowels of humanity to look at what would happen to us if plague stole away everything that makes us who we are.
The story follows Araby, the daughter of the famous scientist who invented the masks that keep people from catching the plague. She is haunted by her dead twin brother, who was killed by the plague before their father could save him. She vows that she will never do anything that her brother never got to do, almost like a vow of chastity since he died at 12. Trying to lose her pain in the grand underworld, she goes every night with April, the niece of theÂ tyrannicalÂ Prince Prospero, to the Debauchery Club for dancing and drugs. But at the club she meets the two men who will change her life: Will, the bouncer who has two young siblings at home that he’s struggling to keep alive; and Elliot, April’s brother and the leader of the rebellion against the Prince, his uncle. Will wants to protect her and Elliot wants to use her, and Araby isn’t sure which one she would rather side with.
Araby was an interesting character, much darker and more morose than most YA heroines. But I think some of Bethany’s choices in building Araby’s character were flawed. First, her vow to never experience anything that her brother never will is broken on the first page as Araby gets ready to go to the Debauchery Club—something that her brother certainly never got to do. She only counts the vow when it comes to anything to do with romance, which essentially makes it a crutch invented by the author to keep her heroines from instantly throwing herself into the arms of any willing man. Because the way Araby is constructed—with her pain, dependency on drugs, and guilt—makes her the kind of girl who would also love herself in the pleasures of the flesh. So this vow felt disjointed and forced, and it limited Araby’s character from fully embracing the dark depths that she could have sunk to.
The world was really fascinating; the story is set in a crumbling London (though the city is never specifically identified, so I am guessing) where the division between poor and wealthy is now defined by whether you can afford a mask to protect yourself from the plague. Corpse collectors patrol theÂ streets, taking away the dead with no care or respect because there are too many to care. And amid all this disease and despair, several rebellions stir: Elliot’s quiet, military-focused rebellion; and the wild, violent rebellion lead by a shadowy figure only know as Reverend Malcontent, with an army made up of the abused and abandoned poor and sick. Despite the excellent world building, we didn’t get to see enough of that world. Araby explores such small portions of the city that it feels as though you are only seeing tiny snippets of this city, and I definitely wanted more. She does travel outside the city to the Prince’s castle at one point, but again we don’t get to see as much of the world as I would have liked. The book was almost crippled by its length (barely 300 pages): another 150 pages would have given it room to grow and explore.
Despite its flaw I still really enjoyed Masque of the Red DeathÂ and I am excited to see where Bethany goes with this series. It was certainly a solid first novel for a budding author.