Saturday, 20 October 2012

Review: The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

This is one of those hidden gems I came across completely by accident. I found a bound proof copy in a charity shop and was intrigued by the cover (the old saying is rubbish - everyone judges books by their cover!) and the blurb on the back, so I bought it.

As soon as I started reading I was drawn into Griffin's wonderful steampunk world. For me, this is YA fiction at its best - Griffin's writing is engaging and intelligent, creating a host of characters who come alive in a fascinating dystopia. The scene is set with beautiful atmosphere - this is a time out of time, a steampunk fantasy where women dress in corsets and lace, where steam carriages rattle along the streets and inventors create incredible machines. This is a dark place though, where a deadly disease spreads and only those who can afford a special mask are protected. Imagine living in a society where everyone's face is hidden all of the time.

Araby Worth is a priveledged girl, seventeen and full of tragedy. The plague that ravages the city killed her twin brother, so she spends her nights in the Debauchery Club, seeking oblivion so that she won't have to remember. Everybody lives in fear - fear of catching the deadly contagion, and fear of Prince Prospero, who rules the city, controlling everything and everyone.

I don't want to give away any of the story, as it's a winding, involved tale which unfurls gently but sinks its hooks into you, daring you to put the book down and do something else. We come to know Araby gradually, finding a girl with a heart behind the vacant facade. At turns timid and strong, she is forced to grow up, to give up the drugs which allow her to forget the things she used to care about. In this twisted tale of revolution and turmoil, Araby discovers an inner strength as she is forced into dangerous situations, discovering that the world around her is really a web of lies and intrigue.

Of course there has to be an element of romance - you can't create a dark, gothic world without a hint of romance. This is no Twilight though - it doesn't hang on the romance as the centre of the story, though it is an integral part of Araby's life. Just like the rest of the twisted tale though, the love triangle that Araby finds herself in is not straight forward.

The Masque of the Red Death is actually based on the Edgar Allen Poe tale of the same name, though I only found that out when I looked up the book after reading it. If you read Poe's short story (you can find it online), it's easy to see where the inspiration for the world Griffin has created came from. However, while Poe's dark, gothic tale gave birth to the city that Araby lives in, our heroine herself and her compelling story is purely the invention of Griffin.

A genuinely brilliant find, and a book that I urge any brave YA fan to read. Griffin's writing is simply beautiful, and I look forward to the next book with more anticipation than I have felt for a long time.

Buy Masque of the Red Death on Amazon.
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