Araby Worth – a suicidal teenager who lost her brother to the plague that has ravished her city. She lives a sheltered and protected life because her father invented the masks that, if you are wealthy enough to afford, keeps people from getting sick. She often visits the Debauchery Club with April to escape because she feels so guilty about her twin brother’s death.
Dr. Worth – inventor of the masks. Also, might be the inventor of the plague. He is missing at the end of the book – having escaped from the Prince’s hospitality.
Mrs. Worth – Araby’s mom is very melancholy and was at one point held captive by the Prince. She is again at the end of this book.
Finn – Araby’s dead twin brother. Turns out while his father probably believe he died from the Plague, he was killed by men trying to eradicate the disease. He may have been recovering, with Dr. Worth having thought he had an antidote. Araby made a vow to not experience any good that Finn hadn’t. The entire family misses him terribly.
Will – a bouncer at the Debauchery Club. He tests people before they are allowed into the club for the disease. He is working as much as he can to get masks for his 2 younger siblings. He has managed to get one, but not the other. Then he rescues Araby, and she tries to fix things by giving a mask to Will for the little boy. Will ends up having to betray Araby and turns her over to the Reverend Malcontent, because the Reverend kidnapped the two little ones. Will seems to have fallen for Araby though.
Elliott – the Prince’s nephew. He is trying to start a revolution to make the city and the people better. He has Araby steal the designs to the masks so that they can be made and distributed to people other than just the rich. He falls for Araby.
April – Araby’s neighbor and closest friend. She is also Elliott’s sister and the Prince’s niece. She is superficial, yet seems to care for Araby. She disappears relatively early on, and it turns out the Reverend took her too.
The Prince – He runs the city. He is the tyrant and dictator of sorts. He has all the scientists jailed, he doesn’t allow the masks to be distributed, and he is all that is wrong with humanity. He threatens and scares people. He kidnapped Araby’s mother to force her father to do what the Prince wanted. He killed April and Elliott’s father (who was then Mayor of the city).
Reverend Malcontent – turns out that he is April and Elliott’s father. He survived the attempted assassination by the Prince but he went a little crazy in the process. He leads the swamp people who are diseased but surviving with the disease. He wants to take over the city and rid the world of the scientists, thinking the plague is God’s punishment for all of mankind’s sins. He kidnaps his own daughter and infects her. He kidnaps Will’s siblings to get to Araby so that he can ultimately get to her father.
Location: Some unnamed city.
Main Premise: A Plague ravished the city (and probably the world). The city is no longer safe. There are corpse collectors who dispose of those who have succumbed to the plague in the river where the crocodiles eat the bodies. Araby escapes to the Debauchery Club often, until April is kidnapped. Then, she forms a relationship with Elliott – who she doesn’t really trust or feel safe with, but who likes her. Although he tells her not to trust even him. She has also liked Will for a long time. While the poor can’t afford masks, and the masks have a flaw that the Prince won’t allow to be fixed (meaning that the mask molds itself to the first user and can not be used by others), we see a strange almost post apocalyptic world where businesses are closed, the poor aren’t safe, food is scarce, the air isn’t safe to breathe, and those who have survived have no hope of anything better. It is acceptable to shoot people who might have the disease. People wear tattered and revealing clothes so others can see who is infected. The horses have died and steam carriages are the only mode of transportation – and they are rare as they are extraordinarily expensive. After April is kidnapped, Araby starts working with Elliott to try to find her. But not before learning more about Will and developing feelings for him. Elliott is planning a revolution, but he needs help from Araby since Araby is the only one who can get to the blueprints for the masks, which Elliott says he wants to mass produce and distribute to all. Elliott has help from Kent, an inventor/scientist. Araby meets the Prince, while pretending to be Elliott’s fiancee. And while at the castle, not able to find April, she and her family are threatened. She returns home, after being poisoned by the Prince, to find her parents gone. And when April returns, there is another plague – a new one – that is spreading. Araby gets a cure for that one – the Red Death – from her father. She is told that there are 2 doses – one for her and one for the person she cares for most in the world. She is captured by Will and turned over to Malcontent, but not because Will is working for Malcontent, but because he is trying to save his siblings. April, it appears is working with Malcontent too. But she really isn’t. And Malcontent is really April and Elliott’s father. Malcontent blows up the ship Elliott is supposed to be on but he escapes. April helps Araby escape, but she reveals that her father infected her. Araby gives April the one vial of antidote for the Red Death and tries to give Elliott the other so that they can save the city, but Elliott tricks her into drinking it. They escape and try to form a plan to save the city.
Other Important Things to Remember for Later: The Prince intends to host a party at his castle, inviting only the wealthiest and cleanest people and then he will lock them all up together in his castle. Araby’s mother is missing. Araby’s mask has cracked. She was touched by a young boy who was infected. There are people who can live for long periods with the contagion without dying. Will and his siblings, along with Kent, Elliott and April and Araby escape on the balloon. Araby and Elliott talk about coming up with a plan to save the city and rescue Araby’s mom. Kent’s father worked with/for Araby’s father at one point, and Dr. Worth met with Kent in a bookstore about something.
Masque of the Red Death, by Bethany Griffin was such a great idea. But it was only a halfway decent idea in practice. 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.