Masque of the Red Death
by Bethany Griffin
April 24, 2012
Tagline: Desire is contagious.
My summary: in a world ravaged by disease, Araby Worth lives cloistered in a high rise, her face covered by a mask whenever she ventures outside. One night, Araby, still mourning the death of her twin, sneaks out with her friend April to the Debauchery District. They put on make-up and bare their limbs to prove that they're unscathed by disease. At a club, Araby meets a young man who makes her believe that life might actually be worth living. But April's brother Elliott also beckons, suggesting that, with her help, he can make their bleak world a better place.
My take: I've recently read a lot of YA books that blend different sub-genres, and I'm loving this trend. I'd call Masque of the Red Death a post-apocalyptic steampunk retelling. It's a cool combo!
The book is based on a short story of the same name by Edgar Allan Poe. Poe's short tale describes a prince who, despite the fact that a gruesome disease is decimating his kingdom, decorates his palace and throws a masquerade ball. One of his guests comes dressed as a disease victim, alarming the crowd, enraging the prince, and finally, infecting everyone in the palace with the Red Death.
You can read the Edgar Allan Poe version of Masque of the Red Death here. It's pretty short.
I wouldn't call this Masque of the Red Death a strict retelling. While Prince Prospero is a character in Bethany Griffin's book, she uses the short story as more of a jumping-off point. The result is an inventive and original story. Griffin's lyrical writing and vivid imagination make this story both macabre and moving.
Though many elements of this book (a deadly disease, a set of fraternal twins, a scientist parent) bring to mind Lauren DeStefano's Chemical Garden Series, Masque of the Red Death also reminded of When the Sea is Rising Red. The setting of Masque -- an unnamed city -- has a sinister and mysterious feel, as do many of the characters. Both books draw on alternate history and feature a rich heroine slumming it among the masses. Both books shy away from the simplistic good vs. evil battles so often found in YA, complicating their heroines' choices by injecting a hefty dose of moral ambiguity. Both books have a sort-of love triangle in which the heroine struggles to decide between passion and practicality. Araby is drawn to one man, yet sees how another can be useful to her, which adds a nice sense of complexity and depth to the "here we go again" YA love triangle.
The cover does remind me a little of the cover of Dearly Departed by Lia Habel. I collect images of YA cover themes on Pinterest, and I'm calling these two the Sad Parasol Girls.
I like dark, creepy books and really enjoyed Masque of the Red Death. Definitely give it a read if you liked: