“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