Author: Bethany Griffin. Release date: 2012. Publisher: Greenwillow Books. ISBN: 9780062107794.
Annotation: The world is in ruins after a deadly plague has killed most of the population. Araby and other wealthy members of society who can afford masks to protect them from the contagion spend most of their time in darkened clubs, trying to pretend like the outside world isn’t full of death. Araby’s world changes, however, when she meets Elliott, her best friend April’s older brother, who has a plan to free the city from the ruthless Prince Prospero.
Personal thoughts: I hadn’t heard much about this book prior to picking it up, but I am a big fan of reinvented pieces of classic literature so I was excited to learn about the influence of Edgar Allan Poe on the novel. Although I did, in general, enjoy the book, unfortunately, I can’t say it was one of my favorites. I thought the author did a great job establishing a really tense, uncomfortable atmosphere, which fit the events of the story perfectly, but, for me, that was the best part of the book. I didn’t really get Araby having a romance with either Will or Elliott. I found Araby’s parents, her friend April and even Prince Prospero to be interesting characters, but the novel focused more on Will and Elliott so that didn’t really help much. I would probably recommend this novel to teens who are interested in post-apocalyptic and dystopian reads, but there are others I would likely suggest first.
Plot summary: After a deadly plague has killed most of the Earth’s population, society is left in ruin. Araby Worth and the rest of the city don’t know if they’re the only ones left alive, but, thanks to Araby’s scientist father, the wealthy are protected from the contagion by specially designed masks. While the poor continue to die, Araby and her best friend April live in the penthouse of one of the city’s nicest buildings, spending most of their time at the Debauchery Club, a darkened den full of drugs, alcohol and sex. Despite her life of relative luxury, Araby is haunted by the memory of her brother, Finn, who caught the sickness before her father invented the masks and died years earlier. Everything changes, however, when Araby meets Elliott, April’s older brother. April and Elliott are niece and nephew of the ruthless Prince Prospero, the city’s ruler who lives in an isolated castle and kills anyone who questions his authority. Elliott is determined to stage a revolution against his uncle, providing masks to everyone in the city along with food, clean water and proper shelter. Elliott needs Araby’s help to bring his plan to light, but Araby is conflicted when she becomes close with Will, the handsome and mysterious manager of the Debauchery Club.
Review: Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s classic short story of the same name, Masque of the Red Death is a tense start to a dystopian series for young adults. Set in the not-so-distant future, the post-apocalyptic world of Araby Worth is gritty, bloody, and cold. High-school English teacher turned author Bethany Griffin does a good job of creating a very uncomfortable atmosphere for the story to take place in. Puss oozes from the open sores of the sick, dead bodies are unceremoniously tossed into the carts of corpse collectors, and even the luxurious lives of Araby and her best friend April are bleak. The author is also successful at developing the character of Araby herself. Araby’s life is completely dominated by thoughts of her brother Finn whose death she feels responsible for. Araby prefers to spend her time in a drug-induced stupor where she can escape her painful memories, but she begins to grow and change after she gets to know Will and his younger siblings and when she becomes involved in Elliott’s plot to overthrow Prince Prospero. Where the novel is somewhat lacking, unfortunately, is in developing the other characters in the story and their relationships with Araby. Will and Elliott are somewhat explored, but their romances with Araby are fuzzy. Does she really like either of them? Why? Araby’s parents are two characters who hold a lot of potential to be interesting, but aren’t given enough page time to really be flushed out. Araby’s best friend, April, is arguably the most successfully developed support character, but really doesn’t have much of a role in the story. Overall, Masque of the Red Death proves to be a bit of a mixed bag, with a strong setting and central character but a weaker plot and supporting cast. The sequel, Dance of the Red Death, is set to be released in June 2013.
Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopian
Reading level: Grade 7+
Similar titles: Dark Inside by Jeyn Roberts, Dearly, Departed by Lia Habel, Divergent by Veronica Roth, The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch, The Pledge by Kimberly Derting, Legend by Marie Lu, Starters by Lissa Price, Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi.
Themes: Dystopian, post-apocalyptic, plague, death, grief, rebellion, romance.
Awards/Reviews: Positive review from Kirkus.
Series Information: First installment in Red Death Saga. Second installment, Dance of the Red Death, set to be released June 11, 2013.
- Read Edgar Allan Poe’s short story, Masque of the Red Death. How is this novel influenced by Poe?
- Explain the vow Araby made after Finn’s death. How does it impact the events of the story?
- Why do you think Araby blames herself for the death of her brother?
- Compared to much of the city, Araby’s life is luxurious and safe. Explain why this doesn’t make Araby happy. Do you think that money can buy happiness?
- Who do you think Araby feels a stronger connection with: Will or Elliott? Why?
- Describe the relationship between Araby’s mother and Prince Prospero.
- Were you surprised to learn the identity of Malcontent? Why or why not?
- What would you like to see happen in the sequel, Dance of the Red Death?