Friday, May 11, 2012

Griffin, Bethany: Masque of the Red Death (Masque of the Red Death, #1)

April 24, 2012
YA Dystopian, 320 pages
Acquired and read: From my friendly neighborhood library (of course); read within the past three days, because my attention kept waxing and waning

Everything is in ruins.

A devastating plague has decimated the population. And those who are left live in fear of catching it as the city crumbles to pieces around them.

So what does Araby Worth have to live for?

Nights in the Debauchery Club, beautiful dresses, glittery make-up . . . and tantalizing ways to forget it all.

But in the depths of the club—in the depths of her own despair—Araby will find more than oblivion. She will find Will, the terribly handsome proprietor of the club. And Elliott, the wickedly smart aristocrat. Neither boy is what he seems. Both have secrets. Everyone does.

And Araby may find something not just to live for, but to fight for—no matter what it costs her.

Alright. I am not bashing this story. I am not bashing the author. What is probably most likely to happen is that you will see a return of the Poe-obsessed, raven-seeking middle-schooler of yesteryear that I thought I outgrew. See, where other sixth graders clung to Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume (which, I admit, I've read/loved both, but that's not the point here), I had this very dog-eared copy of Edgar Allen Poe's short stories.

As a matter of fact, I can probably recite The Cask of Amontillado by heart. Want to try me?



In any case - especially after seeing how many seemed to enjoy it - I decided to take the plunge with Masque of the Red Death, despite initial misgivings.

Big. Mistake.

Now, first of all, let me tell you what I did like about this story: the masks, for one thing. I'd have really enjoyed a description of how they worked and why the mysterious filters would only allow one user per mask. (I'm the type of girl who likes the show, not the telling.) The steam carriages and the zeppelins and the creatures that survive in the sewers even as man succumbs to his own scientific failures. When it comes to building a harsh, sinister world, Griffin knows how to build it from the ground up until the reader herself is holding her breath for fear of contagion.

So far, so good, right?

Until we get to the characters that inhabit this future hellhole.

For one thing, there's Araby. Maybe it's just me, but I cannot tolerate a self-loathing, drugged-up heroine. Maybe that's because I've learned enough about recreational drugs and what they can do to a person, and even if it's meant to carry on the plot...Not a good lesson to teach teens, in any case. Even with all the Finn sob stories being told, the need to dispense masks to little children, I could not find anything to like about her. At all. Which is very sad, because if I can't even sympathize with a main character, I know that the rest is going to break apart for me very quickly.

And then there are the thrillingly heroic manly mans. Yes, there are two of them. No, I didn't know a love triangle was involved when I picked this up.* You can imagine the suffering I underwent. (I very rarely tolerate love triangles. You probably know that by now, though.) Will earns points for taking care of his younger siblings, but that's pretty much it. He reminds me mainly of Gale - the guy you know the author will probably push to second place because he understands the heroine way too well.

Elliott doesn't get any points at all. He wants to start a revolution for the heck of it. Or at least, that's what I got out of it. He also has a Simba complex - you know, the uncle is like Scar, and the dad is Mufasa with scrambled eggs for brains.

...Wow. I never thought I'd put a Disney allusion into a review. First time for everything, I guess.

Anyway. Putting these three characters together, and barely a few chapters in, I had the sinking feeling that I knew what was being built up to.

The Dystopian Formula.

x 1 Angsty, guilt-ridden heroine who has lost her parent/parents/brother/sister/pet dog.

x 1 Nice, handsome boy who has a dark secret.

x 1 Snarky, handsome boy who has a dark secret.

x 1 Very polluted, horrible, "the end is nigh" world. (Well, that's the point of dystopia, isn't it?)

x 1 Confusing, often pointless dialogue and scenarios. (Example: Elliott and Araby are running from danger, and suddenly he winds up showing her how to sword-fight, while cutting away the ties of her corset with said sword. Romantic? I think not.)

x 1 Revolution that suddenly starts brewing when the heroine is introduced, and somehow ends up with her as a spearhead/bounty prize.

x 1 Ending that makes you feel like you've come full circle. The villains are still there, the world is still crumbling around you, one boy may have been eliminated - oh, wait, he's still hanging onto her apron strings, never mind. 

I knew what was coming, and I still read the whole book. Either I'm a really noble person, or I just have a streak of masochism. Again, totally not bashing the author (I mean, if you've come this far with all those drafts and edits and anguished nights of repeated head-desk deserve all you get) or anyone who actually enjoyed all of this book.

Just, don't ask me to read the sequel, okay? 

Also, I understand that this is not actually a Poe retelling. It's supposed to be a Poe re-imagining. Regardless, I still kind of bristle when I see this cataloged directly under the original story (which does not have a love triangle, thank you very much). There is a dystopian formula novel, and then there is Poe.

I don't think I have to tell you which ranks superior in my mind.

On to the next novel! *covers face with mask and carefully places Masque of the Red Death in receptacle*

Warnings: The Debauchery Club, of course, has debauchery. There is some innuendo, but not any language issues that I recall. Violent, plague-induced deaths and bloody murders. Recreational drugs, as I mentioned before, are a no-no. Don't try it at home, kids.

*ETA: Now that I look at the summary, I realize that you can pretty much figure out that a love triangle is inevitable, but I probably got fixated on the beautiful and glittery dress part. *sighs*


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