Masque of the Red Death
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
With what I’ve done for Elliot, I could bring the prince’s wrath down on my family. I might never see April again. And this place, the club, my refuge, has become tainted now, with fear.
Araby lives in a world where everyone wears a mask — masks her father invented — in order to protect themselves from a deadly plague. Because of her father’s notoriety, she lives the charmed life of the upper class, but when her best friend April goes missing, she joins forces with April’s headstrong, mysterious brother Elliot to find her, he pulls her even deeper into his dangerous plot, where she now risks losing everything, including Will, the secretive, compassionate club doorman who has let her into his life.
This steampunk YA novel has it all — a dark, dystopian society; danger around every corner; protectors whose loyalties can’t be trusted; secrets of the past that haunt the characters; sword-fighting and poisoning; an emotionally intense love triangle; characters being held captive in medieval castles; betrayal, grief, and heartbreak; and underground societies with plans of their own for the future of the dilapidated, crumbling city. Plus, it ties quite nicely into the Edgar Allen Poe short story of the same name — in fact, it could be seen as a prequel to that story, which makes me very interested to see where the sequel to this novel will go.
However, I’m having a hard time working around this novel’s greatest flaw — the heroine and her I’m-too-ridiculous-to-realize-both-these-boys-are-bad-for-me love triangle. The “heroine” in this one is actually a misnomer, since — aside from trying to give masks to children who couldn’t afford them — she doesn’t really accomplish anything “heroic” that wasn’t forced upon her by someone else. Instead, she spends her time playing dress-up, contemplating suicide, doing drugs, lying to her parents, and flirting with disaster. She’s little more than a pawn in the plot of this novel, but doesn’t even seem to notice that she’s being manipulated, or care, probably because she likes the attention. As for the love triangle… on one side is the bad boy rebel tough-guy who admits that “I’m falling in love with you… but I would throw you in the water and watch crocodiles tear you to bits, if I thought that doing so would accomplish my goals.” Nice guy, huh? And on the other side is the genuinely good guy, but who ultimately does betray her. (PSA TO TEEN GIRLS: If those are your choices, RUN! It doesn’t matter HOW “handsome” they are!) Her flitting back and forth irritates me, particularly when I think she’d be better off on her own anyways. Unfortunately, however, she’s too ridiculous to realize this. *sigh*
Overall: The dark and beautifully tragic world and intense plot make this a fabulous steampunk dystopian … if you can stomach another Bella Swan-type “heroine.”