Reading level: Young Adult
Size: 336 pages
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: April 24, 2012
Stand Alone or Series: 1st in a series
Source: ARC through Amazon Vine
Rating: 4/5 stars
I got an advanced reading copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program. I had been wanting to read this book forever, it just sounded so good. Griffin creates an awesome world in this book and all in all I really enjoyed reading about it. This seems like the first in a series but I haven’t heard any news on upcoming installments. I know this is based on Poe’s short story The Mask of the Red Death, which I have not read yet.
After a deadly plague decimates the population humanity is hanging on by a thread. Araby Worth is one of the lucky ones; she has food, shelter, and protection from the plague. When Araby’s twin brother was killed by the plague Araby made a vow never to experience anything that he wouldn’t be able to. Instead Araby and her friend April haunt the Debaucery club. It’s the one place you are safe without a mask. While April looses herself in scandalous behavior, Araby looses herself in drug induced dreams. Araby is jerked out of her dream state when Will, one of the club’s security guards comes to her rescue. Araby is drawn deep into political secrets when April’s brother, Elliot takes an interest in her. Now Araby finds that everyone has secrets, maybe in the maze of everyone’s secrets she will find the will to live.
There are a lot of very interesting aspects to this story. It definitely has a post-apocalyptic feel to it but also a steampunk or Victorian overtone. It’s kind of Victorian turned on its head. Everyone exposes as much skin as possible to prove that they aren’t infected. Everyone wears masks with filters to protect them from the plague. Carriages run on steam since no horses survived the plague and gasoline is pretty much non-existent. This is humanity on the edge; people living like they aren’t sure if they will survive another day.
Araby drifts through the first part of the book; she goes from one drug-induced dream to another…she obviously doesn’t care if she lives or dies. She has a unique place in society; her dad (as the scientist who invented the masks) is lauded as a hero. But mad Prince Prospero controls her father and the city. Initially Araby seems to make some decisions out of a need for excitement, but as the story continues she seems to slip out of her apathy and really starts to care.
Elliot, Will, and April are more interesting characters. There lives are full of secrets upon secrets and it takes a while to begin to uncover the complicated political maneuvering behind these characters. What starts out as a story featuring debauchery ends up as a revolution against a power hungry monarch.
The world in this book is what really steals the show. The world is extravagant with tattered velvets, glittery makeup, putrid streets, and glossy ceramic masks. Its full of things that are almost sickeningly beautiful balanced by scenes of stark despair. I loved the contrast throughout the book and loved this world torn apart by human illness and death. So, uh, yeah this is a pretty dark book but sometimes in a beautiful way. I enjoyed how a post-apocalyptic setting is blended with steampunk elements, Victorian sensibilities, mystery, and revolution.
The plot is also well done; it was unpredictable but never contrived. There is a lot of intrigue, politics, and mystery to be solved. The book is very easy to read and well-written and stopped at a good stopping point with more issues to be resolved in future books.
Overall I thought this was a fascinating read. I love the blend of genres and really enjoyed the world created here. While I was a bit underwhelmed by our heroine in the beginning of the book, she started to grow on me towards the end. The plot is intricate, hard to guess, and easy to follow…all in all very well done. I recommend this to those who are interested in reading a post-apocalyptic book with steampunk sensibilities; it is targeted to a YA audience but I think older readers would definitely enjoy it. Not for younger readers though; there is a lot of graphic death, drug use, and debauchery.