Bethany Griffin’s Masque of the Red Death might best be described as a decadent dystopian. Make no mistake – due to a highly contagious and fatal plague, Araby Worth’s world has ended. But there remain bits and pieces, like the Debauchery Club where she spends her nights, that are the ultimate in glamor.
Griffin’s juxtaposition of the two elements – the wreckage left by the plague and the excessive privilege enjoyed by the denizens of the Debauchery District – works to create a very compelling world. The risks and horrors of the low city, where the devastation is worse, are obvious. The masks that prevent transmission of the plague are expensive, and most of the residents there are too impoverished to afford them. Yet wealth and privilege come with their own risks as well, especially for Araby and her family.
Araby is one of the privileged, who can afford the expensive masks that are the only protection against the plague. Her father is the scientist who designed the masks, but not before the plague killed Araby’s brother. And all of the privilege that the Worth family has rests upon the whim of Prince Prospero, and the consequences of angering him could be fatal.
To Griffin’s great credit, she makes Araby much more than just a poor little rich girl. In fact, all four of the central characters – Araby, her best friend April, April’s brother Elliott, and Will, a bouncer at the Debauchery Club – are more complex than they appear to be on the surface. Learning who they are, and watching the characters make those discoveries about themselves and each other, is one of the pleasures of the book.
Griffin’s focus is on character and relationships, which I found a pleasant change from stereotypical disaster-driven dystopias. Bad things happen in Masque of the Red Death, but the book doesn’t stop to glory in the disaster, but rather looks at what it means for the people who are caught up in it. It is also an incredibly visual book, the kind of story that seems like it was made for Julie Plec and the rest of the team behind The Vampire Diaries to turn into a wildly popular show on the CW. I enjoyed it, and I look forward to seeing what happens next.