Masque of the Red Death, by Bethany Griffin was such a great idea. But it was only a halfway decent in practice. Living in a world devastated by a plague where those who can afford masks to protect them live by no rules and scientists are imprisoned by the Prince who runs the city. And Araby is dealing with the death of her twin brother. But she ends up a pawn in a battle to take back the city from the Prince and find a way to help the city and those in it.
Like I said, great idea. Based on the Edgar Alan Poe story, its a neat idea. But there were definitely places where the idea fell flat. The author did a good job building a world around the city and building such a sad and depressing place. She also did an astounding job at giving me just enough to imagine the generalities of the masks, yet I still don’t have a clear picture and so its a mystery as to what they really should look like. And I wonder if that was intentional – given the secrecy around how the masks are made and how they work and the exclusivity surrounding them (for example, my big question is this – Araby mentions that there is a trick to eating with the masks on, but damned if I can figure a way to eat without getting air in).
Araby is a tragic and difficult character. She’s so lost in her despair. But why she’s so lost comes out nearly too late to form enough of a bond to her character so as to avoid feeling like she’s naive or just brooding for the sake of brooding. When you live in a world so full of death, without understanding why her brother’s death affected her so much she ends up seeming a little dramatic. I think I might have cheered for her more had I understood her guilt earlier. Survivors guilt must be tougher on a twin then on most, but given the pains the author took to make the reader understand that dealing with death and the contagion is the only thing everyone can expect to deal with every day, we don’t really understand why Araby is so affected by Finn’s death until very late in the book. And, I spent the entire book – up to the reveal that there is another plague – thinking that we were seeing the red death. To have that sprung on me so late, I felt deceived. The love triangle feels a little forced. It is interesting to see Elliott fall for Araby in the span of 12 seconds (what else is new as YA courting courting goes!) and then for him to tell her he would throw her to the crocodiles if it will suit his cause, but on the other hand he is such a stark contract to Will that I am confused as to why she is even playing along.
Then there was the description on the book jacket. I am again foiled by the synopsis writers. Do they even read the books they write those snippets for? I was expecting all sorts of adventures in the Debauchery Club. Boy was that an expectation that was set incorrectly. I think it would have been nice to see more of the club. The world was well built; the imagery could have propelled this book and the plot much further than it did if we had seen some of the debauchery. But the two or three brief scenes don’t warrant the description on the book jacket. I think there is a lot of world and a lot of emotion to deal with – there is promise – but I hope with the second installment there is more than just the promise of getting more out of the emotion and world building. While lacking here, at least the author did manage to convey the terrible emotions of Araby, most of the time. I saw the fear for the characters enough that when we find out Henry won’t get the mask from the factory it is heart breaking. And when Elise and Henry almost don’t make it to the balloon with Will, it is tough to read. But they are such minor characters and so peripheral (not necessarily in terms of plot given how they are used by Malcontent but in terms of time spent with them) that I can only say I wish there was more.
And, as for the ending, what if I stopped my review in the middle of the prior sentence? With no warning, no real tie up, and no real break in the story or action to justify the ending. I. HATE. BOOKS. WITH. NO. ENDINGS!!! When they arbitrarily split a book it is frustrating. To simply have them all on their way to figure out what to do next… well… I would have preferred one book, not a series which is split just for the sake of splitting it. I think it would have been more natural to split it before she escapes, at least then it’s a cliff hanger.
So, I am left with some desire to read the next installment, but I have to hope that it improves.