Amelia, the pragmatic idealist's Reviews > Masque of the Red Death

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin
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Mar 04, 12

bookshelves: 2012, arcs, ya-kids-teen, point-of-view-girl
Read from February 16 to 19, 2012

I'll start this review by admitting the two reasons I read this book at all:

1) It draws heavily on the inspirations of Edgar Allan Poe (also known as 'The Man') and I assumed that Masque would be either a more detailed retelling or some sort of revision of the original
2) It was highly recommended by Nevermore author Kelly Creagh, the current reigning champion for a Poe-inspired novel

Masque of the Red Death has some obvious similarities to the original work. The first 100 or so pages reminded me very much of Poe's original tale: there's death and despair everywhere, the character feels such overwhelming grief that all she wants to do is escape, and there's that clear negligence among the upper class (epitomized here by Araby's self-absorbed friend, April, as well as the other members of the Debauchery Club). But then...the tone completely shifts and I learn about this revolution and this coup against the Prince. Even Prospero is different: rather than an apathetic fop, as I was expecting, I got a conniving psychopath. Now don't get me wrong, psychopaths are interesting (the Queen of Hearts from The Looking Glass Wars is a ton of crazy fun), but this guy was practically useless. No reason or motive or anything.

I tried so hard to like this book. And on the surface, there's nothing really wrong with it and nothing that would keep me from liking it. I want to point out that for a story that has a "Debauchery Club," it was pretty tame. Surprisingly tame. But Masque ended up thoroughly confusing me on many levels. I don't even know what to call this book: it's not a dystopian, it's not really a paranormal, and frankly, one airship and a bunch of corsets doesn't qualify as a steampunk in my eyes. So what is this, exactly? A neo-Gothic horror story? There wasn't enough 'horror,' though, because halfway through the novel the focus shifts away from decay and despair to seeds of revolution. To be honest, it read like a story with no clear direction, like it couldn't make up its mind if it was going to be character-driven, or plot driven. And so (for me), it basically failed at both. By contrast, one of the powerful elements of Poe's works is his dark and melancholy mood. Dark, but with just a hint of suspense, of something big that's about to happen. That mood did not carry over into Masque of the Red Death the way it did in Nevermore.

This next section deals specifically with the ARC version:(view spoiler)

But for me, the biggest "thing" about Masque was the characters' sheer lack of motivation and the way they related to each other. I actually get why Araby would want to waste away her days in the Debauchery Club. That's hardly a stretch of the imagination. What I don't get is why she gets involved in a plot to overthrow the Prince (that's not a spoiler) or why other characters did what they did, if that makes sense. The other big "thing" about this book was the stark contrast between character descriptions and character actions. None of the characters had any clearly-defined personalities and as a result, everybody seemed pretty schizophrenic. In one chapter, a girl would be a complete airhead and quintessential 'mean girl' - a few chapters later, the same girl would be giving orders and plotting to overthrow the Prince. And that would have been near genius (the whole 'appearance vs. reality' motif) if I got the feeling that the author did it on purpose. But I didn't get that feeling. The feeling I got is that Masque of the Red Death is populated by characters that lack any defining personalities or motivations. They just do and say whatever suits the current mood. The whole thing was rather bizarre.

What else haven't I mentioned? There is a quasi-love triangle, but up until the last two chapters, I didn't mind it at all, because Araby clearly had a 'favorite' and did a good job of giving the other guy the cold shoulder. And I will say that Ms. Griffin gives readers a new experience with her triangle: instead of giving the protagonist two gorgeous, perfect (and submissive) guys, she ends up giving the protagonist a choice between (view spoiler). Interesting.
And much like Daughter of Smoke and Bone, there was a twist at the end that I didn't see coming. Also like Daughter of Smoke and Bone, I did not care for the twist, and thought it was actually handled in a very sloppy manner. I genuinely believe that having a major twist at the end ONLY WORKS if it makes SENSE. Otherwise, it's just useless and confusing. And this twist, like I said, was one of the sloppiest-written twists I've ever read.

Overall, Masque of the Red Death didn't hold up for me. Like I said, I tried very hard to like this book (harder than I've tried for any other book in a long time) and I compliment Bethany Griffin on taking one of Edgar Allan Poe's best-known stories and giving it a unique spin. I know that there will be many who will love this book, and in this case, I would say judge it for yourself. For me, though, it takes a special book to hold up Poe's dynamic legacy, and this just wasn't it.
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Reading Progress

02/16/2012 "After being so put-off by Blood Red Road, I need something new and different." 6 comments
02/16/2012 page 41
13.0% "Definitely still intrigued"
02/17/2012 page 117
37.0% "The mood and story are changing directions on me :P"
02/18/2012 page 225
70.0% "Still liking it, and will probably finish tomorrow morning, but it's much different than what I was expecting."
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Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by I am Bastet (new) - added it

I am Bastet I was wondering about genre when I first heard about this. Even reading the description it doesn't seem to belong in a specific genre.

The love triangle sounds so very interesting. (Not really.)


Amelia, the pragmatic idealist Lol :P They're both losers. I can't remember I read a triangle when both boys were undesirable.


message 3: by I am Bastet (new) - added it

I am Bastet It might be sad, but that makes me even more curious about this book.


Amelia, the pragmatic idealist different strokes for different folks!


message 5: by I am Bastet (new) - added it

I am Bastet Unfortunately, more in a "how bad can YA romance get?" way than anything.


Amelia, the pragmatic idealist Ohhh, well that's different! That's research!


Amanda Ross Thank you for putting into words everything that I felt about this book! Seriously, it's like you read my mind. Excellent review.


Amelia, the pragmatic idealist Thanks! That just made my day :)


Wendy Darling Hah, I clearly liked this much more than you did, Amelia, but you make some very good points. I agree that the strength in this book is definitely not in the romance, nor would I consider it hardcore steampunk. I've accepted that "steampunk" is more of a style thing, especially in YA, although I can see how it can be a disappointment if you've read a lot of true steampunk novels.

Anyway, I'm sorry it was a disappointment for you. Hope your next read is better.


Amelia, the pragmatic idealist Lol thanks for your comment, Wendy.
While this was not my favorite novel, and yeah I was ultimately disappointed, it wasn't bad, by any means. The characters frustrated me, but then again, they can't all be little Hugo Cabrets, can they? :P


Brandi I just finished this (would have finished last night-well 4 am, but my kindle died), and though I liked it a lot, I agree with your thoughts almost completely. I was confused for a good bit, and I'm very dissatisfied with the ending, but overall it was still good for me. I've also never read the original so that might have helped me like it more.


Brandi Oh, and why did she just believe the flyer about her dad being the cause of everything? She wasn't even considering questioning this information.


Amelia, the pragmatic idealist It definitely had potential.
I was more into the descriptions and the prose. Araby was just a downright strange character. Half of the time I didn't think her actions made any sense.


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