Monthly Archives: May 2013

Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin

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“Hours trickle by, and I wilt. The magic isn’t here for me tonight. I can’t get away from the heavy feeling of being me. I want to blend in, to be someone besides myself, someone who is part of something secret and subversive and exciting.”

The Masque of Red Death is a story of a young woman who has lost everything in a world that is crumbling with sickness, decay and disorder. Bethany Griffin has composed a distinctively dark book, but not so much that it pushes the content beyond the realm of young adult fiction. Sickness, both of the mind and the body, dictates every waking action for the characters but in the case of the main character Araby hope is ultimately found in the most obvious of places as well.

In a world where the very air is toxic, Araby is the daughter of the famed scientist who invented the masks that people must never take off if they want to stay free of the deadly sickness that has already killed so many. Unfortunately only the rich can now afford these life-saving contraptions. Araby is deeply flawed, constantly seeking self destruction and distraction in the form of nightly excursions to clubs that offer the very devices she needs to numb herself. It is there she meets two men; Will, the intriguing proprietor of the Debauchery Club who is not who he seems and Elliott, the nephew of the current deranged ruler who is seeking to start a revolution of his own.

There’s no denying that this is a dark read. Araby is one of the most depressed characters that I have come across in the genre but there are some really unique aspects to her as well. Araby initially has no drive to be involved with anything around her, beyond the clubs she frequents at night. She does not see herself as heroic and ultimately wants nothing more than to be left alone to punish herself. Most of her time is spent denying herself even the most simple of human experiences and numbing herself against the memories from her past that haunt her. She turns to the distractions provided by the Debauchery Club which include drinking and drugs. Griffin doesn’t shy away from addiction and there are several parts of the books where Araby is clearly suffering from withdrawal. It’s not just the characters that have dark aspects however; the entire setting of the novel does as well. Not only is the majority of the city’s remaining population living in poverty, which prevents them from being able to purchase masks, but throughout the book there are instances of revolution, attacks and rape. Even in the so-called palace of the ruler people are held captive and subjected to constant fear and intimidation.

Some might question if such content should be present in a novel categorized for young adults but the reality is that teens are exposed to these subjects commonly in modern day media and entertainment. If anything some of the post-apocalyptic books being published recently claim the setting to be an extremely dangerous one but in many ways it ends up lacking the social deterioration to be believable. Though Araby’s world is certainly dark, I found it more fascinating than anything else. While the setting is exceedingly shady, it still includes elements that keep it from being too gloomy, including a simplicity in the writing style and maintaining a steady pace that keeps the reader invested in the developing story line. The blooming love stories also dull the edge of some of the more serious issues and helps it maintain a more “teenistic” feel. The ending, while not containing the same wham as many other teen novels, has its own twist and leaves the reader wondering if there is a sequel coming in the near future.

While The Masque of Red Death certainly has a dark side, I think Griffin deserves credit for recognizing the maturity of many teen readers (and for the adults who read the genre as well) by offering them a story that includes events and themes of a more serious nature. It adds an element of realism and while some might consider it too dark for teens, they are topics that unfortunately are part of the world we live in. To assume that teens don’t already know about the reality of such situations would be naïve on our part. I personally felt the more sinister elements were what made it a book I couldn’t put down, but I have always enjoyed complex story lines, which usually include some manner of strife and adversities that test a person’s moral principles. While I don’t think it pushed the limits of what is appropriate for the teen genre, it’s definitely worth a read to decide for yourself!

Devon – athousandbooklife

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Fragments by Dan Wells

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“She had come to Denver looking for answers, a plan, any sort of hope that she was part of something larger, something that could save both humans and Partials. But that plan had gone wrong long ago, and she was nothing. A failed experiment. She’d dedicated her life to saving the world, but now she realized that dedicating her life wasn’t enough. She had to give it.”

Dan Wells’ Fragments continues the story of Kira and the next chapter of the growing war between humans and Partials as both species face their own extermination. I was pleasantly surprised with Partials and so when the second installment came out I was eager to read it as soon as possible. Thankfully, I can safely say that I found Fragments even better then the first and Wells has done a great job in creating new twists and extending the complexity of his characters and the world they are struggling in.

In the first book we are introduced to Kira, a young medic who is attempting to find the cure to the disease that causes all newborns to die a few days after their birth. Their salvation is ultimately found in the beings called Partials, genetically engineered human-machines that were created to fight human wars and whom ultimately turned on their masters and, along with the RM plague, caused the downfall of the human race. When the humans capture a partial soldier named Samm, Kira is directed to study his biology for a cure and discovers a truth about herself that shatters her identity. In Fragments we learn that Kira has commenced a journey to discover more about herself and ParaGen, the company that created the Partials and RM. This endeavor takes her, Samm, another Partial named Heron and a mentally damaged ex-ParaGen technician named Afa across North America, which has turned into a deadly wasteland full of unknown dangers.  Her journey is made even more imperative as the Partials are also facing extinction due to an expiration date that has been programmed into them and as a result, are waging war against her home community on Long Island in an effort to find a cure for themselves. Kira finds herself trapped in the middle, feeling responsible to save both races that she now has a personal attachment to.

I’m a sucker for an adventure novel and Dan Wells has provided just that with Fragments. Whereas the plot for the first book takes place mostly within the geographical sphere of one location, Kira and her small entourage make a substantial expedition in their quest for knowledge. Not only was it impressive distance wise but I felt Wells did a great job of putting in some truly creative dangers (bio-engineered dogs that can mimic human speech being the foremost that jumps to mind) and I was eager to see how he would describe the next city they encountered. Wells’ realistic portrayal of how nature reclaimed cities and man-made structures, small or large, when humans were no longer there to hold it back was extremely convincing and I considered it a highlight of the novel. In many ways the forgotten and unused formations of human civilization became the greatest dangers of all.

The characters also gained even more depth in this second literary round. I personally came to despise Heron and admire Samm, and while the character of Marcus annoyed me to some degree I recognize his usefulness as a tool to tell the story of what was happening to the human community on Long Island after Kira’s departure. As expected, it is Kira who develops the most. She suffers the most severe identity crisis, torn between loyalty and the desire to save two populations that are effectively destroying one another. Through this struggle Wells plants the discussion of equality firmly at the forefront of his book, along with other morality issues that commonly creep up in real world issues, but without so much force that the reader feels overwhelmed by the serious nature of the dilemmas.

I enjoyed Partials, but I have to admit I enjoyed Fragments even more. The story is jammed full with science, adventure, technology, and the underlying question of what it means to be human and what decisions are right, or wrong, to make. Wells’ kept the momentum climbing all the way through Fragments, making it a thoroughly enjoyable read. Fingers crossed that it continues to climb with a third book, which when keeping Fragments’ conclusion in mind, is no doubt on the way!

Devon – athousandbooklife

Other books by Dan Wells: Mr. Monster (2010), I Am Not a Serial Killer (2010), I Don’t Want to Kill You (2011) and Partials (2012)

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The Eleventh Plague by Jeff Hirsch

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“I traced a finger around Mom’s face and then around the outline of us standing together, a cloudless blue sky behind us. I liked to imagine that the picture had been taken before the Collapse, that we were just a family taking a trip out to the amusement park where we would ride rides and eat popcorn, our laughter rising into the sky like balloons. At the end of the day we’d drive home in the gathering dark and I’d fall asleep, my head cradled in Mom’s lap, her fingers lightly brushing the hair back from my forehead.

But then, as always, I looked down, just to Mom’s left under the Six Flags sign. A couple of years later, Dad and Grandpa would dig two graves there, one large and one small, while I watched.”

The Eleventh Plague written by Jeff Hirsch is the perfect book for young readers who are on the cusp between books for 9-12 year olds and the teen genre. The story of Stephen’s struggle in a world ravished by a deadly plague is interesting but does not contain the complexity of some other Teen novels, which makes it an ideal read for young readers who find the books aimed at their age group not challenging enough or for teens who are not huge readers but want something easy (but which keeps their attention) from the Dystopian genre.

Sometime in the near future the human population has been decimated by a plague, which has been aptly named the Eleventh Plague. Stephen Quinn and his father are two survivors who call themselves Salvagers, individuals who travel across North America searching and collecting items to sell at small hubs of civilization. When an encounter with Slavers changes the structure of their lives Stephen finds himself brought to a community unlike any he has ever seen before. It’s a place that mirrors what the world was like before the plague: electricity, a school and baseball games. There he meets Jenny, the rebellion of the community, and after a joke that was meant as nothing more than a prank, the two will have to decide whether they belong in the tight-knit community of Settler’s Landing or out in the open world beyond it.

The Eleventh Plague is one of the simpler Teen books I have read. At 278 pages it’s less than half the size of many of the most popular Teen books in the last few years and the story line contains far fewer twists and turns. I was able to finish the books in two days and it likely would have been a day if I hadn’t had prior commitments. The story still packs a punch for its size however. Whereas some Teen novels come across as overly far-fetched, the challenges faced by the characters of The Eleventh Plague are more believable and understandable. They are still serious in nature, such as discrimination, serious injuries and death, but their circumstances are not based so much in the extreme but in the normal onstacles that every day life can present. It’s a dystopian novel very much based in reality, or what could be reality if a plague or biochemical virus of such a deadly force was let loose on society.

In my opinion, and as stated earlier, The Eleventh Plague is a great book for young readers who find the books published for 9-12 years old a little too slow. It seems to be a growing trend that more and more young readers are turning to Teen books, even if they are not yet a teen themselves. Hirsch touches on some serious topics, but the novel is missing the usual sexual tension and exploration that is so often found in Teen books now. The writing is simplistic but still enjoyable, very much like the Hunger Games, which is perhaps not so surprising as Scholastic published both. On the other hand, this novel might be the perfect choice for a picky teen or one who is not at the expected reading standards of their age group. While the novel is simplistic in style, the plot line is still fast-paced enough to keep the reader invested to the very end.

Hirsch presents a rousing story in a simple package with The Eleventh Plague. It can appeal to readers on the end of juvenile genre and across the Teen spectrum. It was also a fresh face to the post-Apocalyptic theme that often focuses on the extreme instead of the simple but realistic challenges that can arise from day to day when the necessities of life are hard to come by. The Eleventh Plague would be a great gift for that reluctant reader or for that growing boy who is looking for an adventurous but appropriate read.

Devon – athousandbooklife

Other books by Jeff Hirsch: Magisterium (2012)

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