Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin – Review

Book Jacket:

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

You can read an excerpt here.


The word that best describes this book is: lush.

Picture this: a city-scape of decadence and despair. A pervasive miasma of fear envelopes it, as those who live within the city daily face the horrors of a lethal plague that has devastated their world. In this city, the wealthy hide – behind the protection of their masques, the only way to ward off infection, and the ropes of their exclusive clubs, where they do their best to forget why they wear them. Among the poor, carts travel the streets daily, carrying off the bodies of those who have succumbed. Crumbling high-rises are all that remains of what was once a gleaming testament to science and progress, and as the dark end times stalk the streets, people cling to or turn their faces from the only two sources of hope they have left: science and religion. In other words, what a strange, dark and gorgeously twisted landscape for us to explore – and therein lies the brilliance of this novel. This world Griffin has created (based on the short story by Poe) is lush, hypnotic, and terrifying, and I could not look away.

As for the characters themselves, they are uneasy, strange, repellent and fascinating. I can’t remember if I ever read the original short story, but there is an undeniable air of Poe about this story, from the depression of its leading lady, with her careless, self-destructive tendencies, to the unstable streak of darkness that inhabits Elliott, who is the first to admit he should not be trusted. As you’d expect of any tale of Poe, every character has something ugly lurking within, and it makes things terribly, terribly interesting – if not always comfortable. At the beginning of this book Araby actively repelled me with her indulgent self-destruction, but I also could appreciate her unique imperfections. It did take me a while to warm up to her – about the first third of the book, to be honest – but slowly I came to enjoy her voice, and her gradual awakening to life. Overall I really, really liked how the characters of this story were all broken in some way or another, and how it made them all so very human. These characters are riddled with flaws, and therein lies their strength.

Now yes, this story does have a love triangle – and you know me, if I never read another YA love triangle it’ll be too soon – but this threesome is actually, dare I say it, interesting. I really, really liked the radical differences between Elliott and Will, the different hopes they represented for Araby’s future, and how the dynamic between the three of them shifted over the course of the story – and I REALLY liked how it all ended up. Trust me, this is not your stereotypical YA love triangle.

Honestly the thinnest part of this novel was the plot – frankly it meandered, and at times clunked. I particularly thought the reasons Elliott “needed” Araby’s help were kind of ridiculous – the first reason I believed, but then the way he kept sending her off on idiotically simplistic missions that “only she could pull off”- yes, climb those stairs! I can’t do it, it’s too dangerous for me, but you, having no idea what you’re doing or why, will be able to do it so much better than I! – it was just silly. As a whole, the plot kind of staggered into place, and it was overpowered by the world at every turn – but this book’s atmosphere is so glorious that it was more than equal to the task of carrying this story. The world, the mood, the feel of this book hypnotized me, never mind how slow the first half of the story was – and it admittedly was rather slow, but happily the book does pick up quite a bit of momentum towards the end. And while everything is left far from resolved, enough is revealed to make for a satisfying conclusion.

So in the end, this story is not perfect – the plotting could have used a bit more oomph – but it is gorgeous, lush, and unique. Masque of the Red Death teams with shadows, fear, ruin and decay, and its strangeness is downright wondrous to behold. If Poe was a teen girl, he would have loved this book. 

Byrt Grade: B+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Publishers Weekly says:

Griffin (Handcuffs) delivers a seductively dark, decadently disturbing look at a society crumbling from within and without, infused with a romantic, steampunk air and Poe’s own morbid sensibilities.

Wendy Darling on Goodreads says:

…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.