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On the surface, Bethany Griffin’s debut novel was a good read. Most of my issues are things that I guess I can best explain by borrowing a term from Shelver. Masque of the Red Death isn’t bad, just poke-able. The more I poke at it, the more some things annoy me, mainly the main character, Araby.
Plain and simple: if I don’t connect with the main character of ANY book, I’m not going to outright love that book. And in Araby’s case, I wanted her to go away and give me a main character I could feel SOMETHING other than irritation for.
Araby is one of those characters who can find something to complain about even in the best circumstances, and who thrives on feeling sorry for herself. She made a vow for personal reasons that basically keeps her from living her life AT ALL, so instead she drowns herself in guilt, takes drugs to make it all go away, and basically spends the ENTIRE book doing a long, “poor, poor me,” monologue. And I’m sorry, but girlfriend, the world is falling apart, and you’re telling us all the reasons you and your life are so horrible? I have one thing to say to you, Araby:
AIN'T NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT. Whew, now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, let me talk about some things I really loved about Masque of the Red Death: the world and the writing style.
Both were gorgeous, each in their own haunted way. I read and loved the original Poe story as a child, so I wanted to just drink up the Gothic feel to Griffin’s world-building. All the images her writing conjured up of empty nights, bleak moments, the people’s suffering just hurt my heart to read, because it was all so VIVID. And the world-building was superb, truly some of THE best I’ve seen in a long time.
Some of the plot tripped me up, like how even though people are getting sick every day, Araby and her friend April still go to a club every night. I guess I had trouble swallowing all the opulence juxtaposed with the filth and sickness of the plague, but it definitely made Masque of the Red Death a creepy read, and one I savored, for the writing and world-building.
Plot-wise, there are several side arcs going on – a love triangle that felt awkward for me, and unnecessary, especially because Araby kept flip-flopping back and forth in her affections, a sad family history with revelations that came halfway through the book, a burgeoning revolution, and a possibly insane Reverend battling against a definitely-insane prince. Masque of the Red Death felt a bit too short in my opinion, or perhaps with the length, one of the plots should have been trimmed, because it felt bloated to me. Either way, I’ll have to read Dance of the Red Death to see how it’s all resolved!Final Thought: Despite incredibly well-done world-building, and two interesting if totally different love interests, Masque of the Red Death was just “okay” for me. I was too annoyed with the main character to ever truly connect with her, but I did enjoy the writing style, and will read the sequel.